Friday, January 19, 2018
Opinion

Let guidance counselors actually guide students

Guidance counselors in schools play an important — even critical — role in the success of students during their school years, and after. Often, however, counselors can't fulfill this role because there are too few of them, and the ones available are overburdened with administrative assignments that divert them from their professional responsibilities.

The squeeze on the time of guidance counselors is exemplified in Pinellas County, which recently announced it intends to use FCAT standardized test scores to automate the placement of middle school students in math classes. The reason, district officials say, is that counselors are too bogged down in clerical work to adequately work with students in selecting their courses.

It is hard to believe that automating guidance counselors' work is preferable to having them fulfill their professional responsibilities of helping students identify their goals and take the right courses to meet them.

Other guidance responsibilities being given inadequate attention include helping teachers with lagging students; helping students solve personal and academic problems; consulting with students and parents to help students stay in school and graduate; helping college-bound students identify schools appropriate for them (and knowing them well enough to write a meaningful letter of recommendation); and helping non-college-bound students explore and grasp available career opportunities.

Pinellas County may be a reflection of the situation in the entire state, where the small number of available counselors is disturbing. In Florida K-12 education, according to annual data from the National Center for Education Statistics, there is only one counselor for every 433 students. With that ratio, it is hard to imagine how counselors would have enough time to fulfill their professional responsibilities, even if they were not diverted by administrative assignments that spread them even thinner than the high student-to-counselor ratio indicates.

Although some financially well-off school districts are likely to be more adequately supplied with counselors than in Pinellas County, counselors across the nation are increasingly tagged with test administration as students are given more standardized tests. For example, a recent headline in a Nashville, Tenn., newspaper read, "High school counselors spend 40 percent of day on tests;" in another Tennessee county, it was 47 percent.

A statewide survey conducted in Missouri, which has been a leader in improving its guidance programs and reducing its student-to-counselor ratio, identified nine nonguidance tasks that counselors were performing. Leading the list was managing schedule changes at 83 percent, followed by coordinating testing programs at 74 percent. Other nonguidance tasks included handling transcripts, balancing class loads, testing for special education and gifted students, coordinating management files, and copying/mailing new student enrollment records.

A study in Michigan by the Joyce Ivy Foundation found that only 16 percent of recent high school graduates said they were helped by guidance counselors in choosing and enrolling in postsecondary institutions.

The professional role of guidance counselors is critical to the success of students, and should be given priority commensurate with national standards being established to make students ready for college and career. A start in Florida would be to conduct a statewide study similar to the one in Missouri. This would establish the facts and spark statewide consideration of both improving student-to-counselor ratios and divesting guidance counselors of clerical duties.

Paul E. Barton lives in Dunedin. He is former director of Educational Testing Service's Policy Information Center in Princeton, N.J., and author of "National Education Standards: Getting Beneath the Surface." He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18