The urban high school counselor and school reform: The missing agenda

Barbara Brown Cooper, Fordham University


Our youth have increasing social, emotional, and health problems which high school guidance counselors can help to identify and relieve. However, the school counselor has remained virtually invisible and underused within the school reform movement. This study analyzed the occupation of the high school counselor, much as Lortie (1975) did with teachers, focusing on motives for career selection, counselor's goals, roles, training, job rewards, and career paths. The study also explored organizational and cultural factors that influenced the school counselor. The research compared school guidance counselors in two urban public high schools, highlighting counselors who worked as "specialists" versus "generalists." The study used the following methods of analysis: counselor interviews, observation, documentary information, and archival records. Data indicated that counselors entered their field because of an interest in student relationships and personal growth, the desire to serve others, and the influence of adult role models. Although counselors did not anticipate their career, they responded to external calls to service, the lure of free graduate courses, and the desire to exit the classroom. Counselors at both sites articulated two work orientations: valuing products and measurable outcomes versus valuing process and relationships. Although counselor goal consensus and role clarity did not emerge from the data, counselors who worked as generalists identified educational advisement as a major work goal. They also saw themselves in more of a coordinator role within the school than counselors who worked as specialists. In discussions of their workplace, counselors at both sites reported inadequate graduate preparation, unstructured socialization, haphazard on-the-job training, multiple workplace uncertainties regarding knowledge and methodology, and undifferentiated work rewards. On the other hand, counselors reported high job satisfaction based on outcomes and interpersonal relationships. Finally, an exploration of counselors in their work context revealed an environment that was short on resources, fragmented in departmental organization, tight on space, limited in time, ambivalent on status, and non-collaborative in work relationships. Recommendations were for further examination of the occupation of school counselor and improvement in school site work conditions. In addition, the study recommended moving the issue of counselor professionalization onto the school reform agenda.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|School administration

Recommended Citation

Cooper, Barbara Brown, "The urban high school counselor and school reform: The missing agenda" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9328407.