ASCA National Conference
First Lady Michelle Obama
Excerpts of the First Lady's speech....
...I’m here today because, while we talk a great deal about the role of teachers and principals and parents in preparing kids for higher education, often, engaged school counselors like all of you are the deciding factor in whether young people attend college or not.
You’re the ones planting the seeds about college as early as elementary school and middle school, making it clear that higher education is the expectation, not the exception. You’re the ones grabbing kids in the hallway to tell them to sign up for that right college prep program, to check out that website for professional training opportunities, to convince them that they belong in that AP class and then to call the teacher to make sure it happens. And when push comes to shove, you’re the ones helping our students meet those deadlines, and write those essays, and untangle those financial aid forms.
See, 40 or 50 years ago, most kids could expect to graduate from high school and then go out and get a decent-paying job at a local factory or business. But, as you all know, today, most of the fastest-growing jobs in this country require higher education, and college graduates, as you know, earn twice as much as folks with only a high school diploma.
So higher education is no longer just for kids in the top quarter or the top half of the class -- college is for everyone. Every student in this country needs some higher education, whether that’s two-year degree, a four-year degree, or professional training of some sort. But while in recent decades the need for college counseling has skyrocketed, the staffing and resources have not kept pace with this increased need.
And all of you know the numbers. While school counselors at private schools have an average caseload of 106 students, and ASCA recommends no more than 250 students per counselor, the national average is one school counselor for every 471 students. And that is outrageous. Outrageous. (Applause.) And one in five American high schools doesn’t have any school counselors at all –- none. And that’s appalling. And a lot of people in this country have no idea about these numbers. They have no idea about all the other challenges you face just to do your jobs.
For example, those of you at the high school level are expected to help students choose between thousands of colleges and certificate programs and countless financial aid packages, but hardly any of your master’s degree programs included training on college and career readiness. (Applause.) On top of that, today, students at all levels are arriving at school with greater needs and pressures and distractions, but instead of giving you time to deal with these issues, too often your schools burden you with all kinds of unrelated responsibilities. (Applause.)
So while you might be the most highly educated professional in the building, instead of being allowed to do the job you were trained for, you’re assigned to proctor exams, or monitor the lunchroom, or serve as substitute teachers. (Applause.) And then I understand that on professional development days, you have to sit through yet another workshop on reading strategies or the new math curriculum because there aren’t any professional development units relevant to your job. (Applause.)
So today, we make all kinds of demands on our school counselors, but we often don’t give you the support you need to meet those demands. And this is unacceptable. School counseling should not be an extra or a luxury just for school systems that can afford it. School counseling is a necessity to ensure that all our young people get the education they need to succeed in today’s economy.
And that’s why when we launched Reach Higher we decided to make school counselors a key focus of our work. See, the purpose of Reach Higher is very simple –- yes. (Applause.) You are at -- the key. One of the things we’re trying to do through Reach Higher is to help us reach my husband’s North Star goal -- that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. And we simply cannot achieve this goal unless you all have what you need to do your jobs. (Applause.)
And that’s why, today, I’m pleased to announce three new efforts to support and recognize school counselors across this country.
First, as many of you might know, just yesterday, our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released new guidance for students -- for superintendents and school principals, and he stated that they can and should use their budgets to create professional development units for school counselors -- that was just yesterday. (Applause.) Because our Secretary of Education knows that every school counselor in this country should have quality, relevant professional development opportunities, end of story.
Second, I’m thrilled that the White House will be partnering with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with ASCA, and with other organizations to host a special event on college counseling at the end of July. And together, we’ll be coming up with ambitious new agenda items to improve training, professional development and support for school counselors.
And third -- and I hope this is something you’ll like -- my husband and I think that it’s time that we started giving our school counselors the recognition that you all deserve for the work that you do. So, as you may know, every year we honor the national Teacher of the Year at the White House. Well, starting next year, for the first time ever, we will also hold a White House ceremony honoring the School Counselor of the Year. (Applause.) Yes. This is a start. It is really a start.
The idea behind these efforts is very simple: We want to celebrate our school counselors, and we want to highlight what’s working in college counseling across the country. Because we know that so many of you are already leading the way.