High school guidance counselors, perhaps alone among high school staff, have the potential to help students move directly into the educational opportunity that might help them to succeed.

At least in theory, that’s actually their job. They know which programs are good. They know which programs are bad. They know how much things cost. They know what tests and forms students need to fill out in order to succeed. They can help students become aware of opportunities they might not know about.

But it isn’t really working out so well. A new report from the Education Trust indicates that while guidance counselors could help students succeed, they mostly don’t. According to the paper:

On too many of our campuses, high school counselors are saddled with menial tasks that are unrelated to preparing students for success after graduation. The reasons for this range from the way school counselors are trained to how they see themselves, and the way their role is defined in schools. The failure of principals to recognize school counselors as potential leaders in the effort to raise achievement and success for all students also is a factor.

This is certainly true, at least in part because guidance counselors often have hundreds of students to “guide.” The average guidance counselor is in charge of 460 students. No wonder this doesn’t work. But maybe it can’t work.

The Education Trust recommends fixing this problem by “revising the job descriptions for school counselors so they focus on equitable education and on preparing all students for college and career” and “supporting working school counselors and principals through strong, embedded professional development to help develop effective college- and career-readiness programs.”

Perhaps. It seems that these recommendations, however, are based on the assumption that guidance counselors and principals somehow don’t know that the counselors are supposed to be guiding students to success beyond high school. Or maybe counselors just lack the “professional development” needed to function based on students’ “academic outcomes, including appropriate measures of college and career readiness.”

Not really. In fact less than 23 percent of public school counselors’ time is actually spend helping students with planning for life after high school. Some 25 percent of counselors’ time goes to scheduling classes. And 15 percent of their job is devoted to administering, interpreting, and planning for standardized tests.

That’s sort of sad. But these things are structural components of guidance counselors’ jobs. “Professional development” isn’t going to fix this problem; someone still needs to actually do this scheduling and standardized testing.

Maybe the guidance counselors aren’t really the solution here. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer