SADOW: The School Counselors Make A Pitch For The Status Quo

Today the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider a package of changes designed to reduce state mandates on local districts. Applauded by the school districts themselves in general content, only one of these seems to have generated any controversy.

Among ideas such as allowing schools to set their own calendars subject to minimum instruction requirements, allowing for demonstration of proficiency in some areas without duplication of inefficient replication, and in addressing intricacies to judge more validly sustained superior performance, is dropping the requirement that high schools must have one counselor for every 450 students. The professional/interest group representing state counselors, the Louisiana School Counselors Association, lamented the idea, saying the job they do is vital and handing duties to those not credentialed as counselors or eliminating them could have a negative impact on the schools.

But note that this is not what is being proposed. The rule change simply says the state will not force districts to follow this ratio and says nothing at all about how counselors should or should not be hired and/or their duties dispersed to others not so credentialed. And also note that, in that by having that rule, there is an implicit statement that without it districts inevitably would act in a way detrimental to education according to the ethos of the rule, i.e. you have to have at least one counselor per 450 students in order to provide adequate education delivery, because of some other kind of inordinate pressure (presumably, financial) making districts do what they shouldn’t.

Let’s grant the overwrought counselors that high schools would become war zones of zombified children without certified counselors providing their charges absolutely essential services to keep them mentally sound, morally straight, and on track to achieve their ambitions. No doubt that a student body comprised of these worst fears, through violence and indifference, would create a low-achieving school.

But Louisiana has a school accountability system that punishes districts for allowing schools that inadequately educate, for whatever reason, to stagger on. Maybe not when the rule was put into place many years ago, but times have changed. So in order for them to keep their jobs, administrators at the district and specific school levels have every incentive to make sure that adequate counseling continues if it is needed to attain sufficient academic achievement.

In fact, when fiat rather than actual needs drives the resource allocation process, this signals that in some instances resources are being misallocated to unnecessary functions. For example, what if the nature of students at a school of capacity 1,000 really only creates business for one counselor? Why waste resources on another? Indeed, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that such resources wastage already occurs, as counselors in a number of jurisdictions end up performing duties entirely unrelated to their trained function, demonstrating the presence of slack resources on their parts.

Indeed, in this light it becomes apparent that the misgivings of the group seem more appropriate to protecting jobs than in any realistic understanding of educational imperatives, as part of a larger worldview that champions a one-size-fits-all, heavily centralized state education bureaucracy. Structures are in place to ensure the optimal number of counselors will be assigned to schools without needless, wasteful rules from above.

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