Group Aims to Help School Counselors Face Growing Caseloads
Budget shortfalls in school districts usually result in cuts to non-classroom-based positions like school counselor, creating outsized caseloads for those who remain to help large numbers of students. It’s a problem that one association is working to address.
April is a busy month in high school guidance counselors’ offices, as seniors everywhere are working feverishly to finalize their plans for college, wrap up graduation details, and prepare for the next stage of life.
But as a result of budget struggles in school districts throughout the U.S., the number of guidance counselors available to assist those students is shrinking fast. From the 2008-09 school year to the 2010-11 school year—the most recent for which data is available—the ratio of guidance counselors to students nationwide rose from 457 to 1 to 471 to 1, according to data from the National Center of Education Statistics cited by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
That’s far beyond the 250-to-1 ratio that the American School Counselor Association recommends.
“These cuts to school counselors are happening much more than we would definitely want,” ASCA Assistant Director Eric Sparks said. “It doesn’t seem to be happening across the board, but it’s definitely happening in pockets across the country. We’re hoping we’re through the worst of that, and that as education budgets come back around, those cuts will be reinstated.”
Until then, school counselors are adjusting how they work to best serve the large number of students they are responsible for, Sparks said. And while there are obvious implications at the high school level with students preparing for the transition to college, elementary school kids could be hurt the most.
“At the elementary level, there are lots of classroom lessons and activities that go on to help students develop the academic skills and behaviors that they need in order to be successful throughout their entire academic careers,” he said. “With fewer counselors to support them, those kids are not getting the school counseling programming, and they’re not getting the individual services that they need.”
ASCA’s response has been to focus on professional development for members and advocacy at the state and local levels.
“The cuts have really encouraged us to continue to focus on our main message around how school counseling is important to academic success,” said Sparks. “We have really focused on helping folks understand the ASCA National Model, which is about helping school counselors connect to the academic mission of a school. Then we also do a lot of individual consultations with members, where we look at their school’s data and help them prioritize how to best support the students in their caseload.”
For counselors with large groups of students, ASCA provides training on getting into a classroom setting in order to help a broader range of students at the same time, Sparks said.
“From an association standpoint, we’re trying to be ahead of those changes as much as possible,” he said. “We had an idea that cuts would be happening, so we’ve been working to identify what kind of training and professional development programs and other things we can do to help support our counselors and get them, and their school boards, to understand just how important they are to the education system.”