Are Guidance Counselors Superfluous?

The Arlington Central School District sends out a newsletter every now and again — oddly enough around budget season. This time it includes a piece titled “Arlington’s Investment Paying Off,” which discusses how additional guidance counselors have dropped the student to counselor ratio from 375:1 to 210:1.

Now, three years into the plan, our commitment to guidance services is clearly paying off. At its all-time high, the guidance counselor to student ratio was 375 to 1. Within the last two years, the counselor to student ratio has dropped to its current average of 210 to 1, a ratio similar to most successful suburban schools.

That’s an awful lot of guidance counselors! 210 to each student?! Wow.

OK, so bad English and math skills aside, what is the return on investment of adding these additional guidance counselors? Apparently, having more of them allows the students to meet with their counselors more often.

When guidance counselors were serving 300+ students from multiple grades, contact with students was infrequent and irregular with some students seeing their counselor only once or twice a year. Members of the Classes of 2010 and 2011 will meet with their guidance counselors five to six times this year.

Granted my high school experience was unlike Arlington’s — the Highland High School student population was, if I recall correctly, 172 souls from grades 7 through 12 — but meeting with one’s guidance counselor seems to me to be entirely unnecessary for most students.

What is it they do? How do we measure their effect? How do we determine whether or not an additional counselor is cost-effective? And without knowing that, how can we say that the investment is paying off?


  1. The question: What do Guidance Counselors do? A better question would be what would students, teachers, administrators, and parents do without the Guidance Counselor?

    When a child who had been doing well in his/her classes and now all of a sudden is not, who do you call? When a teacher discovers that a child has fresh cuts up and down his/her arm and has no clue what to do about it and still has to teach his/her classes, who do you call? When your well mannered child comes down with a sudden case of the ‘whatevers’ or the ‘i don’t cares’ who do you call?

    When parents no longer know how to communicate with their kids about anything who do they call? When a teacher suspects that a student in their class is being mistreated or abused, who do they call? When a child presents with suicidal thoughts or ideations, or appears to have onset mental health issues, or just needs a little more support than the instructional program can provide because their parents are getting divorced or their Nana just died, or maybe Fluffy, who they’ve had since they can remember, who do you call……the Principal, the Superintendent, the teacher who has lessons to prepare, meetings to attend, papers and other assignments to grade, in addition to teaching?

    When administrators who have never served the student population as a guidance counselor or a psychologist need a study skills program outline, an anti bullying initiative, a character education program, an attendance incentive developed for truant students, a stand in placement chair for students in need of special services, a career day event planner, or a coordinator to get parents more involved in supporting the school program and success of students, or a school test coordinator, who do they call?

    I propose an experiment……remove the guidance counselor presence from the schools and deal with ‘whatever’ happens. Then you will no longer have to ask if you were getting a return on your “investment”.

    When is it ever too much to ask to invest in the total educational development and personal and social well being of students?

  2. I suspect they would cope.

    But that’s beside the point. The Arlington Central School District asks us to lay out $165 million or so each year, and one of the wonderful things the district has to brag about is its staffing decision with respect to guidance counselors, but the district offers no proof as to why that was an excellent decision, how it helped the children, or what it is that the counselors do with all the free time they have now that there are 210 of them to each student.

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