Two news items sparked disagreements in our comments section over the role guidance counselors play in schools this week.

First, we reported that the city would be rotating guidance counselors and social workers who lack permanent positions between multiple schools throughout the year. In past years, the nearly 300 counselors who are members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, (the pool of teachers who lack permanent jobs) stayed in one school for the length of a school year, or longer. But this year they will rotate from week to week to different schools, where they will perform administrative duties, but probably won’t be working one-on-one with students.

Then City Comptroller John Liu called for an increase in school counseling positions during a speech outlining his educational policy ideas that could help students prepare for college. Liu, a likely mayoral candidate, said city students so badly need help applying to college that it would be worth spending the money to hire 1,600 new guidance counselors—more than double the city’s current fleet of 1,300.

Commenters on the stories argued about the merits of both of these plans. Many, but not all, said hiring more guidance counselors would be an unequivocally good idea, particularly at a time when fewer schools have the budget to take on extra support staff.

“Mikemadden” described guidance counselors as “the lifeblood” of their schools:

The average person on the street cannot understand how valuable Guidance Counselors are to the students. Guidance Counselors provide social emotional support for kids in high needs. Guidance Counselors work with staff including Principal, Asst. Principals, teachers in planning out student success paths. Guidance Counselors provide all the programs for students, program changes, transcript reviews with students. college planning with students, family meetings with parents, attendance monitoring…..should I keep going…

In another comment, he touched on the catch-22 caused facing the city’s ATR guidance counselors: “Why pay a counselor to sit around somewhere in some school and do nothing and still get paid, and let a school go all year without a guidance counselor!”

“Old teach” said all schools should have guidance counselors to deal with safety:

A key component of the Guidance Counselors work load should be intervention with safety concerns. In Fact, the State at one time required any member serving as a dean of students have credits in counseling. If the school safety committee’s are still utilized, guidance counselors should be a factor in student discipline at least on the secondary level.

But “duceman99” disagreed, saying the Department of Education has failed to monitor guidance counselors, and some are ineffective:

Guidance Counselors are a complete waste. They do nothing for the kids. Kids play on the computer when the counselor is supposed to be working with them. Its a joke.

“Teacher/Counselor” said the 300-some guidance counselors and social workers in the ATR pool could be more effective if they were hired by schools fulltime. But even more important than more counselors, the teacher said, would be for the department to increase rigor in the academic programs that students must pass before graduating:

As a certified Professional School Counselor and a current teacher, I boil it down to three categories of concern:

1) We certainly need more counselors — caseloads that prevent counselors from knowing individual students’ names are absurd. 2) Many counselors get little to no college guidance training  – I got all of mine during internships, but it was NEVER mentioned during my classes, which were mostly about clinical-style therapy (don’t ask me why) or other duties that don’t really relate to the job.

3) The reason why kids aren’t going to college has LESS to do with the number of counselors and MORE to do with a lack of LEARNING.  Obviously these are (somewhat) related, but judging by the horrifically low numbers of students achieving college readiness levels on the Integrated Algebra exam (I’m a math teacher, so that’s where my expertise lies) its clear that a majority of NYC public school students just aren’t ready for the rigor of work that any post-secondary institution requires.  I love the idea of every student heading to college, I really do, but we need to keep them in high school (or middle school) a couple extra years, or dramatically improve the effectiveness of what happens in our classrooms, if we really want to make that happen!

Now, why our students are so far behind? The answer is complicated.  But it’s NOT just about more counselors, and that’s spoken by someone directly impacted by the freeze.