By Corrie Stone-Johnson
The April 7 story, “Some school districts get passing grades with minority enrollment,” highlights the benefits of integration for Western New York’s rapidly changing suburban schools. This article comes just after the March 24 article, “Looming cuts prompt unprecedented Hamburg school meeting,” which discusses the possibility of school counselor positions being cut.
What do these articles have in common? Effective integration doesn’t come about by simply having a different student mix. It requires resources, attention and hard work. Indeed, the strongest schools, and the schools that report the highest levels of achievement, are the ones that involve everyone in supporting students, and value equally the various professionals involved. For schools to not only be integrated but also places where all students can succeed, now and after graduation, districts must protect, value and support the professionals whose role it is to help students – school counselors.
Of course, most students welcome high-quality support. A recent report by Public Agenda for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation points out that 72 percent of young people say that talking with someone about college and career options would benefit them. But for Hispanic and African-American students, these numbers rise to 82 and 91 percent. These are the populations that are growing in record numbers in our suburban schools, the very schools that are looking to cut counselor positions.
Students who do not receive adequate counseling services are more likely to delay college or make uninformed decisions. By cutting counselor positions, districts are weakening the prospects of vulnerable students.
Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in our inner-ring suburbs, where many students aspire to become the first generation of college students in their families. For them, declining school support can be devastating. My research in one such district shows that the combination of fewer counselors and increasingly needy students leaves counselors spending less than half the time their profession suggests is needed on activities such as goal-setting and career and college planning. Reflecting the data from Public Agenda, fewer than half of the students in this district report that they have met with their counselors to discuss future plans or received adequate advice in this area.
Our school counselors should not be treated as a dispensable luxury. They can and do make a vital difference in whether students, especially first-generation college students, make it to college or not. The districts serving our increasingly diverse body of students don’t just need to hang on to their teachers or their extra-curricular activities. They need the advice, support and advocacy of their counselors as well.
Corrie Stone-Johnson is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at the University at Buffalo.