Category Archives: college readiness

The College Readiness Programming Dilemma

Are there right and wrong advanced academic courses to take in high school to prepare for college?  More specifically, which college readiness program is more effective for a high school student, dual credit or Advanced Placement (AP).  In my district, not unlike many others across the state of Texas, we have been actively striving to expand our college readiness initiatives and programs.  Upon reflection, one aspect of these effort poses a dilemma, as defined by Cuban (2001), that many K-12 school systems may face – the need to expand dual credit program; the potential issue of diluting our successful Advanced Placement (AP) program; and a need for more effective academic advisement to properly inform students and parents about the benefits and limitations of both college readiness programs.  The positive impacts of AP programming have been well documented in the literature, while the limited research related to dual credit highlights both its benefits and limitations. Although I am aware of the evidence of both AP and dual credit programming fostering college readiness in students, I find myself facing overwhelming pressure from the district administration, parents, and other community stakeholders to place more emphasis on dual credit.  In today’s era of accountability and data-driven decision making, I find it extremely ironic that much of the debate among the aforementioned stakeholders regarding dual credit is not based on data.  More surprisingly, I am intrigued by the diversity in goals behind the expansion of the dual credit program.  In my opinion, there should never be a conflict between the pursuit of a rigorous and expansive AP program and the expansion of a high quality dual credit program because both have the potential to benefit students in preparation of college.

At the heart of the debate are two key factors, a limited perspective on college readiness courses and the need for proper academic advisement.  Many in the community view dual credit more from an asset “obtainment” perspective versus a “preparation” perspective. The obtainment perspective could be characterized by a desire to save money, accumulate credits, or gather an early start on a degree or credential.  On one hand this view is desirable and beneficial in today’s competitive academic and labor markets, but on the other hand when it is the sole viewpoint, decisions to pursue dual credit could at the expense of a student’s benefit.  In fact, it could lead to students taking courses that negatively impact their financial aid eligibility and admission status, and actually prolong their length of time spent in college.  The “preparation” view could be characterized by a willingness to take the most rigorous courses for the purpose of providing adequate readiness of college. When this view is the main focus a student could miss opportunities get a leg up on the academic competition.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications  the second critical issue in this dual credit debate is the need for more comprehensive post secondary academic advisement.  Regardless of the desired advanced academic programming, students and parents need to have the advisement necessary to determine which options best match a student’s post secondary goals.

In light of the challenges my district faces in pursuing more dual credit opportunities, I focused on 3 key attributes of dilemmas as referenced from the works of Cuban (2001), to frame our situation as a dilemma in an effort to determine the best course of action.  First, the situation is packed with potential conflicts between the parents’ knowledge of the impact of dual credit, the political pressures on the superintendent, and my personal ethics.  The second attribute leading me to view this situation as a dilemma is that it appears to be insoluble and only manageable. There does not appear to be a “right answer” as we are charged to emphasize and expand dual credit programs for reasons other than what is in the best interest of students.   Lastly, our situation should be viewed as a dilemma because it involves a competition between the values of the community to save parents money while getting students a head start on college and the values of many educators to make decisions based on evidence, data, and proper academic advisement.

Cuban, L.  (2001).  How Can I Fix It?  New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Texas House Bill 5 Counselor Implications

Texas HB5Introduction
The rapid development of competing global markets has forced the American educational system to confront the need for the development of a more highly educated workforce.  As a result, K-12 school systems have been forced to prepare more students for the rigors of a variety of postsecondary experiences by refocusing their efforts on improving students’ awareness and readiness.  Texas’ 2013 legislative suite of educational changes, House Bill 5 (HB5), includes a vast array of reforms designed to provide flexibility for students to develop their talents and pursue early their postsecondary interests.  A major component of HB5 involves the expectation that school counselors take a more individualized approach to advising students for postsecondary pathways of their choice at earlier stages in their K-12 experience.  Specifically, 33 Tex. Educ. Code § 33.007 states that, starting in the 2014-2015 school year, elementary, middle/junior high, and high school counselors will be required to advise students and parents annually of the importance of postsecondary education; high school counselors must provide families with information related to the advantages of the new postsecondary focused graduation requirements.

The Problems
The implementation of HB5 presents school systems’ counseling departments with a host of problems, the most easily identifiable of which are:  the need for more and different (i.e., tailored to postsecondary preparation) professional development; the need for more effective implementation of the state school counseling model; and the need for more time and resources.  Solving these problems involve expenses that most school systems cannot afford; solutions are confounded further by several ancillary issues such as the limited number of certified school counselors, the shortage of funding streams for counseling programs, and the lack of system-wide understanding of the current guidance and counseling model and laws regulating the role of school counselors.

Counselor Professional Development
In a study on counselor models across the nation, researchers found that “the traditional mental health-focused training provided to school counselors over the past decades may have provided ample skill development for practitioners to help students with personal and social challenges, but it falls devastatingly short of helping students succeed academically in schools of the 21st century” (Martin, 2002, p. 149).  Thus, school counselors now must acquire specific knowledge on academic and career advisement related to the variety of available postsecondary programs of study that are aligned with students’ interests in addition to training related to the new high school endorsement and graduation requirements.

Effective Implementation of the State School Counseling Model
In 1989, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Counseling Association adopted the Texas Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program (CDG), which was revised in 2004.  Having the Texas CDG allows a school district to include sequential activities organized and implemented by certified school counselors with the support of teachers, administrators, students, and parents to address specific student needs.  Local implementation of a state CDG is associated with students having better academic performance, better relationships with teachers, and more positive outlooks regarding future and career opportunities than other models (Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001; Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997).  However, in a national study of state counselor program models, Martin, Carey, and DeCoster (2009) found that Texas had only four to six of the 9 features predictive of effective local implementation of state models.  Texas’ designation as a “Progressing” state suggests that there was room for improvement at the local implementation level, and even more so now given HB5 legislation.

Limited Time and Resources
To fulfill the basic mission of the Texas CDG, program balance of the four components (i.e., guidance curriculum, responsive services, individual planning, system support) along with specific school priorities, must be established as noted by the Texas CDG recommended balance time distribution in Figure 1 below.

Texas Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program
Balance Time Distribution

Texas CDG Components Elementary School Middle School HighSchool
Guidance Curriculum 35%-45% 35%-40% 15%-25%
Responsive Services 30%-40% 30%-40% 25%-35%
Individual Planning 5%-10% 15%-25% 25%-35%
System Support 10%-15% 10%-15% 15%-20%
Non-Guidance 0% 0% 0%

Figure 1, Texas Education Agency, 2004

            Effective implementation of the Texas CDG should include all four components, but the relative emphasis of each component will vary from district to district, perhaps even from campus to campus, depending on the developmental and special needs of the students served.  Even though the Texas CDG suggests 0% time allocation of non-guidance activities, many school counselors often are assigned duties that could fall in that category.  According to the models presented by Gysbers and Henderson (2000) and Myrick (1993), the non-guidance category, which would include administrative and clerical duties, can sometime take up more time than other important tasks when a plan to eliminate them is not implemented.

In terms of resources, the effectiveness of CDGs is directly related to the counselor-to-student ratio within the program.  It is clear that the larger the counselor’s student case load, the less individual attention students receive; the smaller the student load, the more individual attention is possible.  Ratio recommendations are wide ranging.  The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum ratio of 1:250, while the Texas School Counselor Association, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association have recommended ratios of 1:350 (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/counseling_ratios.html). In practice, however, the national, average counselor-to-student ratio is 1 to 457 (Belasco, 2013), and in Texas, the average ratio is 1:440. (American School Counselor Association, 2011).

Potential Solutions
Despite the abundance of news media coverage and dedicated educator conference sessions, there is still an overwhelming sense of uncertainty plaguing many local schools systems regarding the details of HB5 counselor implications.   Moreover, the endeavors that people have taken to explore these implications have lead to the realization there is a limited knowledge base of the Texas CDG among school and district leadership, thereby obstructing the ability to work within the system to meet the HB5 counselor requirements.  Thus far, many school systems have attempted to address the HB5 counselor needs simply by hiring more counselors or postsecondary advisors to help meet the individual advisement and planning needs of their students (Weiss & Haag, 2013).   This costly solution step has been the option taken by the majority of school systems across the state.  If implemented in isolation, this shortsighted approach leaves out the much-needed opportunity brought on by HB5, to rethink, refocus, and reframe the role of the counselor within our existing state model.  There are a number of solution steps that can be implemented at the local and state levels to manage this dilemma better.

Local Level
There needs to be a comprehensive review of the 2004 Texas CDG to understand the model more fully.  Based on personal experience, it is apparent that many campus and district leaders, especially those who are making the decisions to hire more counselors, are not very familiar that the state CDG model exists, much less the flexibility it affords school counseling programs.  Teams of counselors, teacher leaders, and administrators should be developed to promote awareness and understanding of the CDG in an effort to make wiser decisions about how to utilize available resources most effectively.

School districts should explore virtual networks of certified counselors to meet the individual planning needs of students. Within 33 Tex. Educ. Code § 33.002 there exists an option for school district to share counselors.  This collaboration could be incorporated in a virtual setting to allow districts to provide services to students beyond the face-to-face counseling model that currently exists.  The model of online counseling and academic advising has been in place in strong virtual school networks such as Florida Virtual School Network and Stand University Online High School (http://aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1183-virtual-education-and-school-counseling).

The school system should increase the amount of time allocated to the career development subcomponent recommended within the Texas CDG.  Although it is true that this shift would reduce the amount of time school counselors spend on other components of the model, other campus or district leaders (e.g., assistant principals, social workers) could assume some of those responsibilities so that students would still reap important benefits.

In addition, school systems should identify additional funding streams that could support the additional professional development and staffing needs due to implementing these proposed solution steps.  Since external funding often is critical to model implementation (Martin et. al, 2009, p.383), local, state, and federal grants should be explored.

State Level
It would be beneficial for Texas to designate a school counseling leader at the Texas Education Agency level who is charged with the CDG implementation.  Research demonstrates that strong leadership at the state level promotes critical collaborations, forms common understandings about school counseling (by creating state level accountability systems tied to state-level accreditation standards and state level standards for school counselor preparation), promotes local implementation of effective student programs, and contributes to education reform (Gyber, 2006).  To see real change in the effectiveness of the school counselors and the CDG implementation, there needs to be a leader appointed who devotes at least 50% of his/her time to school counseling and whose position is housed within the career and technical education unit of the state department of education (Martin et. al., 2009).

Finally, states like Texas, with strong local control policies, should provide incentives to encourage local systems to implement the state guidance and counseling models (Martin et. al., 2009).  Grants and other resources to support training and other needs could be offered to systems that develop and show evidence of effective programming.

The aforementioned solutions proposed to address the problems presented by HB5 have their limitations.  For example, extensive time and effort would need to be dedicated to reviewing the CDG, seeking and applying for applicable grants, and developing virtual networks of counselors; school systems could be resistant to redistributing their administrators’ time away from their typical duties.  Regarding solutions at the state level, changing the CDG verbiage may actually involve political maneuvering and philosophical shifts that could take time to evolve.  Additionally, monies for hiring a state-level counseling leader and funding incentives may not be readily available.

 

References
American School Counselor Association (2011). School-to-School-Counselor Ratio
2010-2011. Retrieved from http://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/ratios10-11.pdf

Association of American Educators (2013). Virtual Education and School Counseling.
Retrieved from http://aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1183-virtual-education-and-school-counseling

Gysbers, N.C., & Henderson, P. (2000).  Developing and Managing your school guidance program (3rd ed.).  Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association

H.B. No. 5, Acts of Texas Legislature 83rd Regular Session 2013 amends: Tex. Educ. Code § 33.005, 33.006, 33.007.

Lapan, R.T., Gysbers, N.C., & Petroski, G.F. (2001).  Helping seventh graders be safe and successful in school :  A statewide study of the impact of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 79. 320-330.

Lapan, R.T., Gysbers, N.C., & Sun, Y. (1997).  The impact of more fully implemented guidance programs on the school experiences of high school students :  A statewide evaluation study.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 75, 292-302.

Martin, I. M., Carey, J. P., & DeCoster, K. (2009). A National Study of the Current Status of State School Counseling Models. Professional School Counseling, 12(5), 378-386.

Martin, P. J. (2002). Transforming school counseling: A national perspective. Theory into Practice, 41(3), 148.

Myrick, R.D. (1993). Developmental guidance and counseling: A practical approach. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media.

S.B. No. 715, Acts of Texas Legislature 83rd Regular Session 2013 amends: Tex. Educ. Code § 33.002.

Texas Education Agency.  (2014). School Guidance and Counseling Recommended Ratios.  Retrieved from http://www.tea.state.tx.us/counseling_ratios.html

Texas Education Agency.  (2004).   A Model comprehensive, developmental guidance and counseling program for Texas public schools: A Guide for Program Development Pre-K-12th Grade. Retrieved from  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ModelProgramGuide.html

Weiss, J., & Haag, M. (2013, August 19). High school counselors face learning curve as state law assigns new roles. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from http://www.dallasnews.com

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