Letters: Time to change counselor ratios

Over the years, our state has created hundreds of rules that tell educators how to do their jobs. Some tell administrators which books they can and cannot purchase; one even requires the state to review plans for ID badges in every school.

While all have good intentions, when they’re piled on top of one another, they are confusing for educators.

Moving away from this mentality, in recent years our state has increased accountability for actual results rather than micromanagement.

Letter grades rate the achievement of each school. Successful schools receive “Top Gains” status and financial rewards. Failing schools receive stiff consequences. Educators whose students keep pace receive “effective” ratings and increased compensation. Those whose students make no progress see no pay increases and lose tenure protections.

Still, in spite of this accountability for results, there remain rules on the books that tell educators how to educate.

Last week, The Advocate reported on a particular rule that for years has mandated a ratio of at least one school counselor for every 450 students. That seems reasonable; counseling is a critical activity for children.

But consider that counseling 4-year-olds on developmental issues is a world away from counseling high school seniors on college applications or career plans. Counseling in low-income areas is different from counseling in areas with wealthier populations. Some schools are in densely packed urban areas; others are 25 miles from another school.

When we make one-size-fits-all rules, we ignore these differences. Perhaps a school wants to use nonprofit partners or part-time staff, in addition to traditional counselors, to provide counseling services. Right now, the government-mandated ratio of 450 students for every counselor requires they hire one category of employee; it tells them their approach should be the same as everyone else’s; it tells them how to do their jobs.

This week BESE will consider a proposal that requires that schools “shall ensure” that “counseling… career/occupational information, personal/social information services… are available for students.”

At the same time, the proposal shifts the rule that school counselors be hired at a specific ratio from a requirement to a guideline. In doing so, it gives principals the choice to determine the combination of professionals charged with the task.

It does not fire or lay off any employee; it just gives educators a choice in how to accomplish results for which they are accountable.

For years, the state imposed rules on educators. Each rule carried good intentions. But when we don’t trust educators, and when we treat all schools as the same, we limit them in creating solutions for their unique children and communities.

Now that educators are more accountable for results, it’s time to let them make decisions for themselves.

John White

state superintendent of education

Baton Rouge