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Double number of guidance counselors, comptroller says
by Michael Hirsch | October 18, 2012 New York Teacher issue
City Comptroller John Liu on Oct. 4 called for more than doubling the number of high school guidance counselors in city schools. He faulted the lack of hands-on academic and college counseling from an overworked and undersized counseling staff for the fact that just one in five city high school graduates finishes college.
That increase in the number of high school guidance counselors — at a cost of $176 million — would lower caseloads from the present average of 259 to a more manageable 100, Liu noted.
“If we are serious about increasing the number of public school students who graduate from college, we must invest in meaningful college counseling,” said Liu at the press conference he called at the Comptroller’s Office to release his report, “The Power of Guidance: Giving High School Students the College Counseling They Need.”
“Shortchanging students by providing them with little to no counseling might save money in the short run, but it is a penny-wise, pound-foolish strategy detrimental to the city’s long-term economic interests,” Liu said.
He challenged the Department of Education to “change the debate from how many kids graduate high school to how many graduate college.”
Regine Dejean, a counselor at Hillcrest HS in Queens, said that it was a challenge to do her job effectively with a caseload of 400, far above even the city average. “With so many kids, we can’t focus on the whole child,” she said. “You become nothing more than a crisis interventionist.”
Both UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan joined Liu at the press conference to endorse his recommendations.
Mulgrew criticized the DOE for insisting that guidance counselors’ sole work is college applications and admissions — noting, for instance, that they also conduct social and emotional counseling with students, counsel students returning from suspensions and help undercredited/overage students find alternative options, just to name a few.
“Research shows that access to guidance counselors is critical,” he said. “That’s why it’s called guidance, because counselors will guide students and not get bogged down with paperwork and data entry.”
Mulgrew also noted that Liu held in-depth conversations with all the stakeholders in crafting his report. “That’s a refreshing way for an elected official to do policy,” he said.
Logan said the real issue was equity and access. “Every child needs access to an adult who can help them succeed,” he said.
Liu said that the school system could generate the additional $176 million needed to hire more counselors by eliminating waste and “wasteful contractors” and by scrapping such initiatives as “the glitch-prone ARIS data system.”
Liu also called for increasing mentoring services, expanding early intervention efforts and creating more partnerships between high schools and area colleges. He said that the school system should encourage college students to mentor high schoolers and that the city should invest in summer programs assisting college-bound high school graduates to ensure that they matriculate.