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Report: Counselors Are Untapped Resource in College Readiness

Too often, high school counselors are stuck with menial tasks or bogged down helping a few troubled students. A better use of their time would be to guide students for life beyond high school and would lead to a college- and career-ready agenda, according to a new report from the Education Trust.

Counselors have access to achievement data and are able to watch patterns across the school that give them a unique vantage point in helping students map out their future, says Richard Lemons, vice president for K-12 policy and a co-author of the report, Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness, released yesterday. Yet they often don't have the training, incentive, or time to provide such guidance.

This confirms the findings of a study earlier this month that Catherine Gewertz covered explaining how counselors felt conflicted in their roles in preparing students for college and good jobs.

Among school counselors, more than 90 percent consider advocating for all students an ideal mission for their profession, but only 45 percent see that as actually happening in their school, the Education Trust report found.

Low-income and minority students whose families often have not gone to college and need extra guidance are particularly hurt by this lack of college- and career-readiness counseling. The authors note that surveys find more than half of school counselors believe students should receive equal support rather than reaching out to help those with the greatest challenges for additional guidance. This can lead to some students not getting in the right classes to best prepare them for post-high-school life. Only about half of African-American and Latino students are likely to complete a rigorous curriculum compared with their white peers. The report suggests counselor attitudes can contribute to this gap.

To transform the role of counselors, the Education Trust report recommends policymakers and educators:

1. Change job descriptions for school counselors to include a focus on providing equitable education and college and career prep for all students.

2. Shift university counselor-training programs to include a focus on their role in education equity and college- and career-readiness.

3. Require all school counselors to get school-specific training on career and college counseling and on using student achievement data to spur change.

4. Provide professional development for school counselors to improve their ability to develop college- and career-readiness programs.

5. Include measures for college- and career-readiness activities in counselor evaluations.

Although teachers and principals are starting to be held accountable for student success, most counselors are not evaluated on what percentage of students make it to college or careers, says Lemons. In college, their training is more oriented toward general counseling rather than school-oriented. Another review of training programs for school counselors I wrote about last year found only 45 of 466 colleges offered a course showing future counselors how to help students and families select, apply, and pay for college.

While the emphasis on individual therapeutic wellness is important, the new push to prepare all students for college and careers should prompt a change in the role of school counselors, says Lemons.

"If the task facing America now is college- and career-readiness, we need to think about how educators can be positioned for that and how they can be most beneficial," says Lemons.

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