Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Counselor College Training, College Board, and the Circle of Huh

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Graduate schools are not preparing counselors to focus on college and career pathways once they work in schools.”

“Preservice and in-service training inadequately prepares counselors for college and career counseling.”

“There is a strong correlation between counselors’ preparation and their students’ outcomes.”

Faithful readers of this column have heard remarks like this before- school counselors aren't taught how to work with students in the college selection process, and it hurts everyone.

But these quotes aren't from me—they’re from a new report from College Board.  “True North: Charting the Course to College and Career Readiness” highlights College Board’s most recent survey of school counselors and administrators, where both groups recognize counselors can be effective change agents in the college and work plans of students, provided counselors receive the training and support they need to do their jobs.

The report’s recommendations include everything from better training of counselors, to more legitimate measures of counselor accountability, to greater support of counselors from teachers, administrators, and the community.  Given these changes, counselors can help students realize more of their potential, make better plans for life after school, and help students build better paths towards making their dreams come true…

…and while all of this is remarkably important, this news will probably elicit the same remarkable reaction from everyone who could really do something about this quagmire.


That’s the response from every school board member, legislative assistant, bureaucrat, parent, and elected official I’ve talked to in the last five years. It isn’t that they don’t understand the problem; they are amazed the problem exists in the first place. Here’s a very typical discussion:

“So, you’re telling me the counselors who are supposed to help students make good college choices receive very little training on how to do their job, if they even get any at all?”


“And once they’re on the job, they don’t get enough updated information and training to make up for that deficit?”


“And surveys shows you aren't the only one who feels that way—that most counselors agree with you?”


And then, along comes—wait for it now--


And that’s where the trouble begins.  That “huh” is policy-speak for “Wow, this is really a problem. Someone really ought to do something about this.”

Only once—once in dozens of discussions with policymakers—has one of them said “OK.  What can I do?” 

Unfortunately, he was chair of a committee in the Michigan legislature who had to keep the state from going broke, so he was swamped. Everyone else has decided this is someone else’s “easy” issue to fix.

“Well, local school boards can’t require more training if the graduate schools won’t provide it.”

“The legislature can’t mandate more training if the state board of education won’t approve it.”

“The board of education can’t make the graduate schools require this class.”

“We can’t make a new bureaucratic policy without the state board of ed’s approval.”

“Isn’t this a local school board issue?”

And my favorite response—“We don’t need to add more training to our graduate programs.  Counselors are getting all the training they need.”

I’d like to think an organization with the respect of College Board will get a different answer—that maybe, just maybe, counselors can get the help they need to give students the help they need. We call that a Circle of Support, and it makes people grow; it sure beats the Circle of Huh, where the only thing that grows is my impatience, and the dashed hopes of some pretty bright kids.

This is an easy fix.  Who’s in?

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