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Fulfilling the Promise: Reimagining School Counseling to Advance Student Success

reviewed by Pat McDonough & Abigail K. Bates - August 08, 2019

coverTitle: Fulfilling the Promise: Reimagining School Counseling to Advance Student Success
Author(s): Mandy Savitz-Romer
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682533530, Pages: 232, Year: 2019
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In Fulfilling the Promise, Reimagining School Counseling to Advance Students Success, Mandy Savitz-Romer gives an honest, thoughtful, and hopeful look at the state of school counseling in America. She calls counselors a “promising but untapped resource” uniquely positioned to address students’ intertwined academic, social, and emotional needs as well as their postsecondary goals. Yet, given the average ratios of counselors to students nationally, what is consistently evident is that their workload is unrealistic, which most often results in counselor underutilization and deployment to address other organizational needs.

Savitz-Romer identifies multiple barriers to effective counseling in public schools today, including high caseloads, school leaders' misinformed perceptions of the role of counselors, unrealistic demands, and organizational barriers. She also describes how school leaders, attempting to meet unfulfilled administrative demands, turn to counselors to carry out a number of top-priority jobs: screening for STDs, scheduling, testing, and discipline.

With Savitz-Romer’s deep practitioner knowledge, she has developed a reconceptualized school counseling plan, offering research evidence to support her proposed reimagining and documenting efforts from around the country to show how counseling can be changed to be more effective and efficient. She calls on school leaders to understand counselors’ skills and potential contributions in order to restructure counseling working conditions and provide the supports necessary to meet new expectations.

Currently, counselors are expected to provide both a breadth and depth of counseling services. Aside from being an impossible expectation, it is metaphorically a tangle of strands of student and institutional needs. As a strategy for untying this Gordian knot, Savitz-Romer suggests that counselors use an academic home model (analogous to a primary care physician managing a patient’s multiple individualized needs and providers) to develop multi-tiered systems of support. Tier 1 supports 80-85% of all students, Tier 2 supports individualized and targeted group interventions for 10-15% of students whose needs are not served by Tier 1, while Tier 3 supports the 3-5% of students who are high-risk and need more intensive, individualized counseling support. This latter tier would be heavily reliant on extra-school service providers.

Specifically, in her model, counselors connect and coordinate outsourced services with a new comprehensive counseling program using a network of specialized supports, distributing the workload among partners such as teachers, parents, community service providers, and students. Building the network is key to reimagining school counseling. Counselors would differentiate between roles appropriate for counselors and external partners, then build relationships, establish expectations, and manage all partner services.

This book is for school counselors, site- and district-level leaders, policymakers, and philanthropists. For philanthropists, Savitz-Romer suggests investing in the “hub, not just the spokes,” calling out the limitations of external triage programs (the spokes) which provide emergency services that leave the fundamental problem unsolved. She also suggests that foundations support large-scale change and intermediate organizations that can provide fiscal management, technical assistance, and learning communities. Savitz-Romer also proposes that counselors be included in professional development opportunities that are often restricted to teachers. For states and the federal government, she recommends the development of a vision and strategy for instituting effective counseling programs with a focus on the regulation of caseloads, training, technical assistance, and policy remedies for specific needs, such as the recent federal FAFSA Completion Project.

Savitz-Romer astutely makes the case for strong principal-counselor relationships, which she demonstrates are dependent upon three practices: mutual trust and respect, principal-counselor communication, and shared vision and decision-making. She shows how these relationships can be aided by annual agreements of work scope accompanied by goal metrics. She also points out that school leaders’ expectations of counselors need to be focused on student needs and not handling unassigned administrative tasks.

Savitz-Romer has several noteworthy recommendations: place a counselor on the school leadership team to align the school and counseling missions; communicate the counseling department mission broadly to create common understandings and expectations among all professional staff; lower caseloads (which has been shown to eventually increase college enrollment); revise counselor job descriptions to establish agreement about the scope of counselors’ work; and finally, prioritize school counselors’ time, particularly by minimizing the proportion of their time devoted to non-counseling administrative tasks like test administration, lunch and hall duty, discipline, etc. On the last point, Savitz-Romer perceptively makes the point that assigning counselors to be disciplinarians undermines the trust needed for counselors’ counseling roles.

Our criticism of this well-written and much-needed book is that Savitz-Romer only minimally addresses  the college-going needs of students. She mentions Michelle Obama’s efforts to elevate the work of counselors and her college initiatives. But if Savitz-Romer is proposing Reimagining School Counseling to Advance Students Success, we believe a critical piece of that is addressing the urgent need for more college-educated workers to enable U.S. economic competitiveness and break down the racial and class disparities in college enrollment that have remained unsettlingly similar since the 1960s. Savitz-Romer does, however, suggest partnering with educational outreach programs. While outsourcing academic support and college planning incorporates important community and national partners, it does not replace the need within a school for professionals to establish and maintain a college-going culture. As key leaders within the school, counselors are uniquely positioned to consistently ensure that the structural and cultural supports for college-going are available to all students.


Furthermore, among the identified community partners, Savitz-Romer does not include counselor-educators. She alludes to the lack of college advising in preservice training, yet neglects to include counselor-educators as important partners in shifting the preservice curriculum to better meet the needs of all students.


Finally, while Savitz-Romer acknowledges the importance of equity in centering the school counselor in her model, she does not discuss the ways in which the system itself is structured to foster inequity. Her model is promising in its attempt to meet the students where they are holistically, but it is not enough to simply increase the number of counselors and resources without also addressing the systemic barriers that have disadvantaged low-income and racially marginalized students. Counselors themselves must be culturally competent, external partners must be vetted to ensure they center student needs, and equity needs to be at the core of the academic home model. Without this, we work around the edges of the problem without addressing the perpetual, systemic issues that continue to plague underserved students.


Yet, Savitz-Romer still deserves our utmost attention because she offers an important step toward reimagining counseling in America’s public high schools. With a researcher’s thoroughness and deep understanding, a policy analyst’s insight into promising practice solutions, and a counseling practitioner’s heart and authenticity, Savitz-Romer calls upon education leaders to systemically understand counselors’ skills and potential contributions in order to restructure counseling missions for American children and youth. Her message is clear: put counselors at the heart of students’ school experiences connecting and coordinating academic and support services!

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 08, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23032, Date Accessed: 8/20/2019 1:38:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Pat McDonough
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    PAT MCDONOUGH a professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Her research is in the areas of college access, organizational and college-going culture, high school counseling and equity. Two recent publications are "Toward an Integrated Application of Bourdieusian Theory" (with Abrica) in Harvard Education Review and "'You Can Go to College': Employing a Developmental Perspective to Examine How Young Men of Color Construct a College Going Identity" (with Huerta and Allen) in The Urban Review.
  • Abigail Bates
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    ABIGAIL BATES is an education policy researcher, formerly with the Campaign for College Opportunity, whose work has focused on educational equity, college admissions undermatching, school counseling, and college access. Two recent publications are "The State of Higher Education for Black Californians" and "The State of Higher Education for Latinx in California."
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