Thursday, March 4, 2010

In defense of counselors and independents

An article appeared to today in the NY Times regarding high school counselors. This is my response:

An experienced public school teacher and administrator, I am saddened to see yet another member of the system being flogged in front of the public. Having supervised many a guidance counselor, I understand first hand that their job, just like the rest of us in public education, is often an impossible job.

While there are those guidance counselors that are fortunate enough to work in very small high schools with low student ratios, the vast majority are not so lucky. Most counselors would love to spend their day guiding and advising students regarding the opportunities that await them in higher education. Unfortunately, mandates from NCLB and other initiatives dictate that their day is spent on anything but advising students. Instead, they are forced to attend truancy meetings, attendance committees, drop-out prevention meetings, oversee testing and scheduling, and obtain training in everything from suicide, child abuse and pregnancy prevention. The list goes on and on.

The ugly truth, however, is yes, most counselors don't have time for college advising -but they are by no means useless. Simple math will tell you that it is impossible for most of them to spend an adequate amount of time with individual students helping them discover their talents and goals, much less choosing a college that fits them and preparing an application that showcases their strengths. There's just not enough time in their day to provide everything that is demanded of them. Furthermore, most counselors never get the chance to visit a college campus; certainly not a campus beyond their state. For those that are able to tour campuses, many of them have to use their personal time or funds.

It is true that many students have begun to seek assistance from independent college consultants; but not because their counselor was useless. Most counselors are incredibly caring and work inordinate amounts of hours above and beyond the school day. They are often the person that child in need is relying on to see them through another day. But they just can't be all things to all people, and unfortunately our nations push to insure that all students perform at the same level, regardless of ability, has made their focus on everything but the college admissions process.

Many independent college consultants were indeed those "useless" high school counselors. Many are former educators. What these consultants have in common is their understanding that the high school counselor is often inundated with dozens of other "priority" issues. They do not have the luxury of spending their entire day focused solely on the college admissions process. They don't have the opportunity to spend a third of their year traveling to see new campuses across the country and familiarizing themselves with each schools admissions process. They don't get to spend 10 to 20 hours per year, and sometimes more, getting to know an individual student, as well as their parent. They certainly don't have the time to sit down with an individual student and do interest inventories, major explorations, and college searches, much less oversee the application and essay process.

Unfortunately, today's admissions process requires that students be guided through the process of seeking a college that fits them. The exorbitant cost of higher education makes it imperative that students choose their school carefully. Understanding their academic strengths and interests needs to be cultivated at the high school level, before they spend money on college tuition. All of this takes time- individual time that the high school day and the counselor’s caseload doesn't allow.

Just as counselors are branded as useless, independent are seen as money-grubbing. The truth of the matter is that their services are bridging that gap between counselors and students. Most independents devote a portion of their practice to pro-bono work. Lists of those counselors are easily accessible and can be found on the Higher Education Consultants Association website (http://hecaonline.org) or Kaarme.com.

There have been flaws in the system for years. And for years we've come up with ways to remedy it. It’s time we stopped publicly flogging every member of the public school system. Just as test prep companies and tutors have stepped in to assist teachers that don’t have enough time in their day, independent college consultants have stepped in to assist counselors. Not every child needs a tutor, test prep, or a college consultant, but it's nice to know they are there if you need them.

1 comment:

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