Efforts to Make School Counselors Optional Won’t Help Student Outcomes
By Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff
Program Director, M.Ed. School Counseling at American Public University
As a counselor educator, I work to prepare future professional school counselors who have big plans to make a difference in the lives of children. You can imagine my surprise when I heard about Ohio State School Board’s decision to eliminate a rule requiring that schools have at least five student support personnel for every 1,000 students. More surprising than the rule change was that school counselors were listed as one of eight positions that administrators and districts had to choose from in the first place. The other positions on the list were just as surprising: school nurses, library media specialists, elementary art teachers, music or physical education teachers, social workers, and visiting teachers. (Candisky, 2014).
I do not see how any of these positions should be in competition with one another for funding or how local school leaders could be expected to choose among these important services. Have we forgotten that our children have medical, academic, career, social, and emotional needs? They need to engage in art, music, and physical education.
Our goal is to help children to develop into productive citizens in our world. We cannot see less value in those who make a difference every day with students because a specific standardized test score is not directly associated with the teaching of academically tested subject areas.
The data produced over the last several years indicates that school counselors matter. According to Carey and Harrington (2010), school counseling is related to the following outcomes: increased proficiency in math and reading, increased attendance and graduation rates, decreased disciplinary actions, and resulted in more students taking and achieving higher average scores on the ACT.
What showed a strong relationship to positive student outcomes? School counselors will not be surprised: lower student-to-counselor ratios, implementation of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model, and a focus on career development were all noted as important factors linked to positive student outcomes.
We have the blueprint to create good outcomes for children and school counselors are an essential component. We need school counselors. We need school counselors to fulfill their role according to the ASCA National Model. We need to place a greater emphasis on career development.
This all sounds pretty simple but, several years after the development of the ASCA National Model, we are still dealing with inappropriate use of school counselors as well as threats to their very existence in schools. This is a call to school administrators to support school counselor(s) in building a comprehensive program according to the ASCA National Model. This is a call to legislatures to support funding and hiring of more school counselors rather than considering them optional as is the case in Ohio. This is a call for more career counseling opportunities in the schools. It is time to stop thinking that schools only need a principal and teachers who teach academic subjects that are measured by standardized testing. Counselor are not student support personnel, they are essential personnel. School counselors specifically make a difference in academic and career achievement as well as social and emotional development.
I’m pretty sure there would be uproar if schools were expected to operate without a principal. I’m suggesting that the same uproar occur for those personnel that are considered optional by the Ohio State School Board. Although there is some language in the article that districts get to decide and they will make the best choice for the children, it sends a message to all that schools can function without a nurse, library media specialist, social worker, school counselor, physical education teacher, art or music teacher, etc. Although supporters of the rule change indicate this will only provide flexibility, it sends the message that these positions are not valued.
Furthermore, there is some discussion that this will hit the less affluent schools the hardest and they may be the ones to forgo hiring a counselor or nurse or social worker (Candisky, 2014). Might this create a social justice issue? Access to school counseling may being only for those schools that can afford it.
Leaving it all up to the administrator or superintendent to decide on which positions are needed also presents significant concern. School counselors in many areas are still advocating for their role and are expected to perform non-counseling duties that prevent them from making a great impact on student outcomes. School counselors are still working in settings where the caseload exceeds the recommended school counselor to student ratio of 1:250.
According to Carey and Harrington (2010), school counselor ratios and using the ASCA National Model make a difference in student success. As educators, we are tasked to use data and evidence-based practices in our work. Let’s get to work on reducing the ratio and supporting our school counselors in developing their programs following the ASCA National Model. This would be a positive direction in education reform.
Carey, J.C., & Harrington, K. M. (2010). Nebraska school counseling evaluation report. Amherst, MA: Center for School Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.umass.edu/schoolcounseling/uploads/Research-Brief-8.2.pdf
Carey, J.C., & Harrington, K. M.(2010). Utah school counseling evaluation report. Amherst, MA: Center for School Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.umass.edu/schoolcounseling/uploads/Research-Brief-8.2.pdf
About the Author
Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff holds an Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed. in School Counseling, and B.S. in Psychology. She has been with APUS since September 2010, and is an associate professor and program director of School Counseling. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), K-12 Certified School Counselor (VA) and Trauma and Loss School Specialist with 12 years of experience as an elementary and middle school counselor.