According to data obtained by The 74, school security officers out number counselors in four out of ten of the largest school districts in the country, including three of the top five.1 This means in Houston, there are 1,175 students per counselor and one security officer for every 785 students.
New York, Miami-Dade County, Chicago and Houston all employ more security officers than counselors, and not one of the ten largest districts meets the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) recommendation of one counselor for every 250 students.
Does it make a difference? Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s racial justice programs argues that investing in reactive methods over proactive ones is a mistake in a Huffington Post article detailing the findings of The 74.2 “If there were more emphasis on preventing problems rather than dealing with them when they happen, schools would ultimately be safer and students performance would be better,” he said.
Ratios of counselors to students matter
First, high schools where school counselors have fewer students to care for also have lower rates of student suspensions and fewer disciplinary incidents.
A study regarding the role of school counselors resulting from collaborative effort between the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Connecticut School Counselor Association (CSCA), and the Center for School Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation (CSCORE) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst echoes that statement.3
On average, high schools in this study’s sample reported 14 suspensions for every 100 students.
- Schools with 158 to 204 students per school counselor had 12 suspensions for every 100 students.
- Schools with 205 to 251 students per counselor had 15 suspensions.
- Schools with 252 to 297 students per counselor had 18 suspensions and
- Schools with more than 298 students per counselor had 26 suspensions for every 100 students.
Schools that are close to or below the ASCA recommendations simply perform better in this area.
How counselors spend their time matters
Second, in high schools where school counselors described providing greater levels of college and career counseling services, lower suspension rates were reported. Also, when counselors indicated they were providing more responsive services to students suspension rates and disciplinary incidents were lower.
After the effect of dollars spent per student and student-to-school counselor ratios were removed from the equation, offering additional college and career counseling services resulted in a reduction of 3% to 4% in disciplinary problems.
Counselors who spend more of their time helping students and less on administrative and classroom duties outside the scope of their job descriptions have a greater impact on student outcomes.
School funding matters
This study also concluded that as per pupil expenditures decreased, the student-to-school counselor ratios significantly increased. High schools that spent less money per student were also very likely to have school counselors who were responsible for a high number of students. In these cases, students facing challenges at home are likely to be seeking the help of a school counselor who’s struggling to meet the needs of a large number of students.
Investing in Counselors vs. Security Personnel
Dennis Parker of the ACLU also said adding security to schools has led to some normal school infractions, like dress code violations, being handled by law enforcement rather than school staff. This can result in a student being arrested and having to appear in court rather than face in school discipline.
Many school security officers receive minimal or inadequate training, particularly in dealing with special education students. As reported by The 74, the majority of states have no specific laws mandating that officers deployed to classrooms receive special training for working with children.
Counselors on the other hand, do receive specific training through programs like the Masters degree in counseling at Wake Forest University. They are taught specifically how to deal with children and classroom situations.
School Counselors Help Prevent Tragedy
School shootings and other events often trigger officials to add security and school resource officers, but it’s not clear that there is any evidence, beyond anecdotes, to support the fact that it makes a positive difference. Little, if any rigorous research, links an increase in school security to improvements in school climate.
Counselors, however, play a large part in preventing tragedy. “Counselors can play a big role in keeping kids safe and preventing violence,” said Mark Kuranz, a guidance counselor in Wisconsin told ABC News.4 “The days of the school counselor just preparing the college-bound kids with applications and resources are antiquated. Part of our job is to judge the climate of a school and to provide a place that kids can go to when they need to talk to someone.”
The demand for school counselors is on the rise, as increasingly a better student to counselor ratio is proven not only to improve student performance and reduce suspensions and other disciplinary action, but also likely help keep schools safe and prevent violent tragedies. Students who obtain their Masters Degree in Counseling from Wake Forest University graduate with the skills they need to join the ranks of school counselors and start making a difference in their community.