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White House to States: Help School Counselors Now

July 15th, 2014

screen-shot-2014-07-03-at-3-22-05-pmFirst Lady Michelle Obama addressed the critical role of school counselors in helping students successfully complete high school and pursue post-secondary options recently when she was made an honorary school counselor at the annual American School Counselor Association conference

“College is for everyone,” according to Mrs. Obama.  “Every student in this country needs some higher education, whether that’s a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or professional training of some sort.”

Unfortunately, with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation, Oregon’s students will certainly struggle to achieve this goal, which is part of both the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and Oregon’s 40-40-20 legislative mandate.

Research continues to show that the leadership and collaboration provided by school counselors not only increases student achievement and post-secondary matriculation through college and career readiness planning, but is instrumental in creating environments that help students overcome obstacles which are affecting their ability to learn.

In a recent letter to chief state school officers, Arne Duncan echoed Mrs. Obama’s call to action when he asked leaders to find “systemic and sustainable” support for school counselors.

School counselors are more important than ever to Oregon students, families, and school staff members with forty percent of our state’s children identified as being exposed “to the social-economic, physical, or relational risk factors that adversely impair their ability to develop the foundations of school success.” (Oregon Learns: Executive Summary-OEIB Report to the Legislature, December 2011.)

Before outlining the newest federal funds available to support, hire, and train school counselors; Mrs. Obama stated that school counseling “is a necessity to ensure that all our young people get the education they need to succeed in today’s economy.”

Only eight states have a worse counselor-to-student ratio than Oregon, and Mrs. Obama called the national average, “outrageous.”   Making matters worse, Oregon has never established staffing or funding mandates for school counselors.  While the importance of equitable student access to professional school counselors is at the forefront of a national conversation, Oregon’s educational leaders and politicians should take the necessary steps to ensure that its students are better prepared for academic success, social-emotional well-being, and college and career readiness through the resources and support provided by school counselors.

For more on this topic, please see a previous post: Where Are The School Counselors?.

Gene Eakin has a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Oregon and worked in the public school for over 30 years, including 23 years in the Lebanon School District.  He is the School Counseling Program Lead in Oregon State University’s College of Education and advocacy chair for the Oregon School Counselor Association (OSCA).   Dr. Gene Eakin can be reached at gene.eakin@oregonstate.edu .

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