Are counselors stretched too thin to meet students' social-emotional needs?
- When counselors in Indiana's Beech Grove City Schools began tracking their time as part of a planning grant from the Lilly Endowment, they discovered they spent less than half of their day actually counseling, according to Chalkbeat. Instead, they were doing administrative busywork.
- Beech Grove will receive $259,727 in an implementation grant to train staff to better meet the social and emotional needs of students. One school in the district hired an additional counselor, while another had an administrator pick up some of the tasks formerly foisted on counselors, like proctoring exams.
- In the district's grant application, many school leaders noted that counselors were bogged down by simply helping students with urgent, basic needs. Many of the students in the district are poor, or come from families affected by the opioid crisis. That leaves little, if any, time to work on students' long-range plans, including college.
Few would argue that dedicated, qualified school counselors can have long-term advantages, not only for students, but for the community. For example, since 2008, Colorado has spent $60 million in grants, from the Colorado School Counselor Corps, to hire 270 counselors and provide professional development at 365 low-income middle and high schools. The wager that counselors can bridge the growing achievement gap in this increasingly diverse state appears to be paying off. A 2016 report found more students are graduating, taking college-level courses in high school, and moving on higher education, saving taxpayers there $319 million.
But the situation in Colorado is unique. The American School Counselor Association recommends that a school counselor's caseload be capped at 250 students. The national average is 482. Counselors in Arizona are most overburdened of all, each with an average of 924 students to manage. In a 2016 poll, only 6% of respondents named school counselors as a key priority for education spending.
An increased focus on counselors is an extension of the call in recent years for more attention to the whole student and social-emotional learning. Strategies such as mindfulness instruction, identifying feelings and how they impact relationships, as well as increased mental health support in schools, can go a long way toward making students feel cared about, welcome and included in school. Social-emotional learning techniques can be a boon to all students, not just those at high-risk.