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School reform and perspectives on the role of school counselors: a century of proposals for change.

In a rising crescendo of presidential exhortations and policy debates about the need for school reform in the United States, it is difficult to remember that calls for school reform are not new. Indeed, it can be argued that since the beginnings of the Republic, the United States has constantly been in a process of education reform. Each time there is a change of national presidential administrations, there is likely to be a proposed shift in the emphases that educational policy and practice should address, creating a constant process of "starting over," looking for new solutions to enduring problems.

Although it is easy to target changes in political parties and national administrations as the source of the constant push for school reform, the latter has deeper and more enduring roots than the agendas of political parties. In the United States, politicians, educators, religious leaders, industrialists, and other special interest groups have been in conflict about the purposes of education, particularly in the common schools or grades K12, throughout the nation's history. In an overly simplified way, it can be argued that for more than the past two centuries, policy makers, administrators, and scholars of education have been in debate about the educational perspectives of the original founders of the nation and the continuing vitality of such ideas. One can cite as examples the perspectives of two of the most prominent statespersons present at the birth of the nation: Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson believed that the primary purposes of education were the development of literacy and informed citizenship in order to effectively conduct the processes of democratic government and of meritocracy. He believed that education for an informed citizenry needed to emphasize the classical academic or liberal education subjects. Benjamin Franklin believed that education should, in addition, foster economic development and that students should acquire that knowledge which is both "ornamental and practical" (Best, 1962, p. 133). He believed in the school's role in providing vocational training as defined in the terms of his day. Periodically one or the other of these views or their integration can be detected in calls for education reform. Certainly, as is discussed later, the focus of the report of the National Commission on Excellence (1983), A Nation at Risk (which was highly influential in stimulating school reform during the past two decades), favors a Jeffersonian position, not that of Franklin. The stream of legislation and position papers in favor of increased and strengthened vocational education in the nation's schools is rooted in the latter.

The National History of School Reform: Some Perspectives

When the national history of school reform is considered, it can be argued that many reform proposals are developed in response to perceived national or international political, economic, or social events. Thus, in virtually every decade since the fundamental views of Jefferson and Franklin and their contemporary commentators' views about education were advanced, education in the United States has been debated, criticized, and frequently blame as been assigned to schools for a range of perceived national problems. Such problems have ranged from illiteracy to weak national defense, to a poorly prepared work force, to chemical dependency, to poor parenting, to losing the technological edge in international competition, to economic downturns, to violence, to the need for character development. However inaccurate these assertions may have been, they have constantly caused school personnel to respond to these attacks by changing the curricula, the structure and organization of schools, and the support services they provide

On the one hand, these continuing criticisms give public testimony to the importance of education as essential to achieving the nation's ideals: to the direct linkage between schooling and social, economic, and political development. On the other hand, many of the criticisms of U.S. education and the proposals to fix it tend to caricature or lag behind the realities and the complexities of American education and its interaction with the dynamics of the larger society.

Shanker (1990), among others (e.g., Goodland, 1983; Timar, 1989), argued that contemporary school reform proposals do not imagine different kinds of schools, but emphasize improving traditional schools--primarily at the secondary school level, traditional governance systems, and administrative bureaucracies. Shanker's point is a valid one as the types of reform proposals advanced by educational critics are examined. In general, they argue for strengthening the traditional system of schooling not restructuring or creating newly configured and structured processes of schooling. Thus, proposed reforms include holding traditional school personnel and students more accountable for educational outcomes. Typical reform recommendations are wide-ranging. Some are focused on teachers (e.g., testing of new teachers in specific subject matter, teaching by technology, performance standards for teachers, better teacher pay, more in-service and professional development opportunities and longer career ladders for teachers with more incentives for promotion, merit pay). Some are directed to students (e.g., national standards in specific academic subjects to be met by students at specific grade levels usually 4, 8, 12; high stakes or exit testing to determine whether students should or should not graduate; stiffer academic standards; more courses taken by each student in science, mathematics, languages; no more social promotion; more frequent standardized testing; more homework).

Sizer (1992) argued that school reform proposals can be clustered into three categories that are sometimes contradictory. They include the first which he calls the oblique strategy. This is the most familiar. In such an approach, government does not insist directly on fundamental reform of an individual school but rather promotes such reform at long range by means of some combination of three mechanisms: (a) increased regulations (e.g., that students must take specific courses); (b) increased mass testing, both to assess how a school and a child are doing as well as to identify, and, thus, humiliate the incompetent into engaging in reform; and (c) improved teacher salaries, more rigorous teacher education, and stricter teacher licensing on the assumption that improved schools will only be achieved with "improved" teachers.

The second school reform strategy, according to Sizer (1992), can be labeled the direct approach. Included in this strategy is the rethinking and redesign of individual schools. This approach is not primarily a government-based strategy but rather one pursued primarily by selected corporations, particularly those who for various reasons (e.g., reduction of costs, increased accountability) have gone through internal processes of restructuring. Such school reform proposals, fairly rare and corporate sponsored, assume that the means of education are profoundly flawed and that reform requires fresh, sensibly designed new types of institutions.

The third school reform strategy identified by Sizer (1992) is called systemic, and the primary device used is parental choice. Such an approach posits that only an educational marketplace where parents can select schools for their children to attend will provide the momentum necessary to overcome the inertia and the control that the existing education bureaucracy and professional interests appear to have on public education. The scare word in this approach is voucher.

Sizer (1992) contended that the oblique strategy is the most used approach to school reform because it is cheap. (It requires schools to reform by printing regulations to which they must conform.) But it undermines the tough job of direct institutional reform and essentially defends doing more of the traditional methods of schooling. Sizer further observed that school reform proposals talk little about who is going to pay the bills for school reform or what costs are involved. In addition, he suggested that the reform proposals are essentially silent about the world outside of the school, particularly the effects of television on students, the achievement images portrayed in that medium, and the commercial interests that drive television.

Some researchers and theorists have argued against the appropriateness or the effectiveness of many of these school reform proposals. Supovitz (1997) contended that the overwhelming use of multiple-choice tests to monitor the academic progress of students is inadequate in the face of the student diversity that exists. Kohn (2001) warned about the interdependence of the standards and the testing movements; that the tests being used are the enforcement mechanisms of the standards. He further argued that the standards proposed or implemented in many school reform proposals can be differentiated into standards which describe outcomes and those which define content. According to Kohn, "outcome standards specify `how well' students must do" (p. 52) to meet a particular standard. These standards are the basis for cutoff scores in standardized tests and can be problematic if they assume that all students, regardless of background, curriculum, interests, or ability, must produce the cutoff score or not graduate. He further contended that, "Outcome standards to a remarkable extent are based on confusing harder with better" (p. 52). Content standards, in contrast, specify what students will be taught. Obviously, prescriptions of what is to be taught affect the methods that will be used. A major issue here is that given the continuing emphasis in school reform on accountability, the content mandated in national and state standards is typically that which can be measured. But concepts like intrinsic motivation, intellectual exploration, knowing and managing emotions, showing ethical and social responsibility, appreciating diversity, cooperating, and conflict-management skills--skills which are enduring requirements in life and which reflect sound character (Elias, 2001)--are less easy to reduce to numbers and to standardized test scores than is factual content. These elements of character education can be assessed but not likely by standardized tests. If they are not included in schooling or in content standards because they are not measurable by standardized or multiple choice tests, the likely outcomes of schooling are diminished. Timar (1989) extended these points by arguing that advocates of restructuring traditional schools cannot be successful without fundamental changes in the culture of schools, particularly the hierarchical culture of schools and its emphases on role differentiation and specialization. In particular, he argued that "hierarchical cultures measure themselves by their activities and focus on the delivery of services. They measure success quantitatively ... the number of hours spent in class, the number of credits completed, etc." (p. 267).

As suggested previously, Shanker (1990) observed that most of the reform proposals essentially reflect tinkering with traditional schools rather than redesigning them for contemporary purposes and needs for quality schooling. He contended that these reform proposals assume that the traditional model of education (which essentially has reflected the model of schooling since the early years of the United States) is still valid, but that teachers and students somehow have gone soft, are not working hard enough, and need to be monitored and held more accountable. He suggested that a lot of the reform proposals are not new but have been present in U.S. schools in the past but under different social conditions and expectations for schooling.

Shanker (1990) argued that the traditional model of education is dependent for its success on at least three conditions: "a cohesive family and social structure; a willingness to accept educating the vast majority of children to only a low level (and then pushing them out or letting them drop out) and a small minority at a high level; and a large supply of well-qualified teachers" (p. 347). Each of these premises is debatable. For example, in regard to condition three, well-qualified teachers, many bright college graduates, women particularly, who went into teaching in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s have far more career options now and are turning away from the conditions under which teaching is often done to pursue other career patterns. It is not likely that raising teacher standards, alone, will recruit top college graduates to enter teaching in the numbers required in the future. The second condition, educating most students to a low level and then pushing them out or letting them drop out and educating only a small minority to high level, is not morally, economically, or socially acceptable. Indeed, in a period of history when knowledge work--the pervasive use of advanced technology in the workplaces of the nation--and science and technology merge in their creativity and innovation to give the nation a competitive edge in international competition, all students need to learn the academic and vocational skills that allow them to participate in such changing work contexts. Having a large population of persons who are unable to learn new industrial or financial processes, are inflexible in dealing with change, and who are without substantial academic and vocational skills is to place them and the nation's economic viability at risk. It ignores one of the realities of the global economy: that the principal asset of nations is not raw materials or even wealth, but the literacy, numeracy, computer, and communication skills; the teachability; flexibility; and commitment to lifelong learning of its population (Drucker, 1993).

Missing Ingredients in School Reform Proposals

These analyses leave the first condition Shanker (1990) offered still to be discussed as a requisite of the traditional model of schooling, "a cohesive family and social structure." If such conditions occurred for the majority of children in the earlier days of the traditional school, this is not the situation today. The family structures in the United States and the many forms these structures take are changing more rapidly and profoundly than national perspectives seem able to capture (Herr, 1999). As suggested previously, school reform proposals have largely focused on the structure and content of schools, not on the changing circumstances that affect the development of children and youth. It is as though the persons proposing school reform assume that schools occur in a vacuum, that they are unaffected by the social and economic conditions that swirl around schools and that create individual children's needs. Some school reform proposals seem to suggest that "one size fits all." That if the content of schooling could be made harder and teachers were more accountable, children would learn and the problems of education would be solved.

Unfortunately, such views of school reform do not factor into their propositions that, in many cases, because of deteriorating situations in homes, schools have become child-rearing institutions, one of the few places in their lives where many children find predictability, safety, support, and food. Schools are one of the few places that allow children to escape violence in the home and in the community, the increasing lawlessness of gangs and cults, physical or psychological neglect in their home, a lack of family presence and support as they return home from school to empty apartments and houses, or to homes where chemical dependency robs parents of their ability to be responsible for their children. Many children are experiencing the multiple conditions of disintegrating families, the special tensions associated with the rise of blended families, the growing pockets of child poverty and child malnutrition, and the growth in the number of single parents and grandparents raising children.

The nostalgic and traditional view of the typical American family unit in which mother, father, and two children coexist in a well-ordered, stable, and loving relationship, with the father the unquestioned breadwinner and the mother the nurturing caregiver, is rapidly fading. The nuclear family unit, rather then being the most common pattern, is rapidly becoming the exception. This is true for many reasons too comprehensive to explore in depth here, but they likely include as factors dislocated workers, the need for two-earner families to survive economically, the sexual revolution, delaying of marriage or parenting to pursue career goals, blurring of traditional sex roles, shifts in the system of roles and relationships comprising family units.

Some brief statistics may help amplify these changes.

* In 1993, 72% of all teenage mothers were unmarried compared to 1960 when only 15% of mothers were single (Farley, 1996).

* By 1993, unmarried mothers accounted for 31% of births (National Center for Health Statistics, 1995).

* In 1994, 61% of married couples had wives in the paid labor force, compared to only 30% of married couples in the 1960s. The most common American family is now one in which both spouses work (Farley, 1996).

* Child poverty is a persistent problem in the United States (Hernandez, 1993). In 1993, 15.7 million children lived in households with incomes below the poverty line. Childhood poverty is clearly associated with the nation's shift away from two-parent families to lower income, single-parent families, usually headed by the mother. Almost one-half of all children in mother-only families are impoverished. In 1960, 90% of children under age 18 lived in families with a father and a mother. By 1993, 70% of children lived with a father and mother (Hernandez, 1993).

* The termination of a two-parent family or the absence of the father from the home clearly has negative consequences for children (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994).

* Estimates place the number of children who come home from school to an empty house each day, so-called latch key children, at more than 4 million (Herr, 1999).

The results of these changes in family structures, while not always validated by empirical data that link such changes to at-risk behavior, nevertheless suggest major societal changes in the way children are being raised and in the likely effects of these changes on their readiness and focus on schooling. An increasing number of children seem to be vulnerable to psychological, interpersonal, and economic difficulties which may affect their attitudes and behaviors at school. Dryfoos (1997) studied the sets of factors that place adolescents in a high-risk category vis a' vis gaining an education, getting a job, effectively parenting, or being able to participate in the political process. The factors found to predict high risk behavior and that tend to occur together include:

* Family--lack of supervision, lack of attachment and bonding, parental substance use, abuse and neglect, absence of cultural resources, and frequent moving

* School--low expectations for success, little commitment to education, being behind in school, and low grades

* Community--poverty, gangs, and access to guns

* Individual--susceptibility to peer influence, lack of social competency, and tolerance of deviance/unconventionality (Dryfoos, 1997, p. 38).

For several decades, researchers (e.g., Lobel & Hirschfield, 1984) have been acknowledging that adolescent at-risk factors related to school or general social behavior tend to occur early in the child's life, often before they enter school. Indeed, there appear to be increasing proportions of elementary school children who have attachment disorders, problems of parent-child bonding, failure to thrive, clinical depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior disorders (Compas, Connor, & Wadsworth, 1997). Oppositional disorders and other antisocial behaviors such as disobedience, opposition to authority figures, and attacking and bullying other children begin to occur as early as 3 years of age and continue through elementary school and into adolescence (Bloom, 1996; Kazdin, 1987). Youth violence, too, is escalating in many communities in the rate of incidents of youth gang warfare, of children killing their parents, of children killing other children (Fox, 1996). Many of these children have been physically abused by parents or parent surrogates. When this occurs, children tend to imitate the physical violence they have experienced or displace their rage at being brutally mistreated to other children or adults. Within this context, an adolescent or adult who was treated cruelly as a child may grow up without feelings of interpersonal warmth, oblivious to the suffering of others or indifferent to hurting them.

While the origins of all at-risk behavior by children and youth may not be centered in the home or the changing family structure of the United States, there are certainly trends which can be related to attachment disorders, clinical depression, and oppositional behavior. Some additional statistics may illustrate the potential linkages.

* Compared to the period prior to 1965, when a large proportion of mothers remained at home and raised children, parents today are increasingly paying someone else for child care while they work (Farley, 1996). Increasing numbers of schools are providing not only free lunches, but free breakfasts for children who are not receiving adequate food at home; in some communities, schools and after-school child- and youth-serving institutions have combined to provide support, food, monitoring, and mentoring of some children from early morning (e.g., 7:00 a.m.) until early evening (e.g., 6:00 p.m.). Such school-community partnerships are intended to reduce the emotional and behavioral difficulties potentially associated with latch-key experiences by children, to provide children with multiple adult role models who care about them, and to provide children safety, nutrition, and academic support (Herr, 1991). It is clear that such school-community processes are, in reality, child rearing practices and serve as surrogate parents.

* There is growing evidence of dysfunctional parents who are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for raising their children (Pinson-Millburn, Fabian, Schlossberg, & Pyle, 1996). Often these parents are incarcerated, substance abusers, perpetrators of physical or sexual violence, or victims of emotional or neurological disorders that cause them to be unavailable or incapable of parenting children. Such problem parents have caused a substantial increase in the number of households in which grandparents, if alive, have had to assume parenting responsibilities (Pinson-Millburn et al., 1996).

Many other types of evidence could be discussed that suggest that many school reform proposals that focus only on changing the structure and content of schooling are, at best, partial solutions to the problems that schools face. Schools are creatures of the communities in which they are located and, therefore, the social, political, and economic problems of those communities are problems for their schools, not problems created or fostered by their schools. The problems that teachers and other educators deal with on a daily basis often come to a school with the children as they act out the stresses and strains of their homes or neighborhoods.

In spite of such realities, national goals for education, as one aspect of school reform, persist in ignoring the contexts in which schools often operate and children live. For example, the first goal of the national effort called America 2000 initiated by the elder President Bush and adopted by President Clinton and called Goals 2000: Educate America Act in March 1994 (Ohanian, 2000) is stated as follows: "Goal 1: All children in America will start school ready to learn." In an idealized sense that is a worthy goal. However, in more pragmatic terms, the information discussed previously about many children coming to elementary school with clinical depression, attachment disorders, or conduct disorders suggests that many children will not start school ready to learn, their parents will be unable to help them (Goal 8), and many schools will be unable to offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning (Goal 7).

While there is no intent here to argue that the majority of children come to school unprepared to learn, the data discussed do suggest that a sizable number of children grow up in family and community conditions that are not conducive to or reinforcing of learning. Therefore, school reform proposals must acknowledge that recommendations which are designed to improve the structure of the school, to raise academic standards, or to incorporate high stakes testing may ignore the important differences in students' preparation to learn, the variations in their "multiple intelligences" (Gardner, 1985) to which learning should be tailored, and the range of "emotional intelligence" (Goleman, 1995) by which they develop the maturity to interact with others effectively, develop motivation to do well, dream of goals to which they aspire, and develop the competence "to solve problems and to create products, that are valued in one or more cultural settings" (Gardner, 1985, p. x). Thus, to advance proposals that do not attend to the variability in students needs but instead emphasizes that "one size of schooling fits all" is to risk the loss of greater numbers of students through dropping out or non-engagement with the academic content offered to them.

Carpenter (2000) suggested that in the 10 years between 1987 and 1997, there were some 361 ideas proposed by which to improve the schools. Many of these ideas were useful, although, on balance, they did not substantially improve student achievement but they did overload the teacher's job, they expanded the school's responsibilities, and they often created a patchwork of programs without coherence or useful outcomes. There are limits to what schools can do about many of the problems that affect them--slums and inner city blight, poverty, changing family structures, and poor parenting. These are larger policy problems that must be addressed at community, state, and national levels by task forces, agencies, and other mechanisms that have both focused responsibilities and resources to address the problems. The responses that may help in school reform include an expansion of pre-school programs like Head Start, increased opportunities for early identification and intervention for children who come to school at risk of academic and social failure, parental education, greater attention to integrated services which bring mental health, financial and medical services together in specific school sites, community-wide organizations that provide after school recreation and academic offerings with multiple adult role models for children, and increased access to counselors in schools and in community settings.

Perspectives on the School Counselor in School Reform Proposals

Although the rise and the expansion of the number of school counselors in the United States has tended to occur at times of intense periods of school reform initiatives, school counselors have not typically appeared in reports such as A Nation at Risk and other influential documents as proposed mechanisms of school reform. In some cases, school counselors have been treated as part of the problem in schools, not part of the solution. Nevertheless, in a longer historical view, school counselors and school reform frequently have been linked.

The beginning of school counseling in the United States is a familiar story. School counseling arose in the late 1800s and early 1900s in response to social, political, and economic events outside of school (e.g., the implementation of the industrial revolution, the large numbers of immigrants coming to the United States to seek economic and social opportunities, the migration of persons from the farms of the nation to its urban centers where industrial workplaces providing a range of jobs were located, the need to match persons and jobs, concerns about child labor, and ways to preserve the dignity and freedom of choice of persons seeking work).

Emanating from these societal trends were frequent calls for school reform. Many of the early pioneers of school counseling (e.g., Brewer, 1918; Davis, 1914; Miller, 1961; Parsons, 1909) argued that the nation needed both social and educational reform as it made the transition from a national economy that was essentially agriculturally based to one that was spawning large corporate manufacturing and industrial processes characterized by divisions of labor, the intense need for a skilled work force, and the need to incorporate persons of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Within such conditions, the process of adapting the new processes of vocational guidance to the schools was seen as a school reform. In addition, however, Frank Parsons (1909), considered the father of vocational guidance, was also a social reformer concerned with ensuring that schools provided the types of education needed by this new society that was rapidly unfolding. Parsons believed that schools were too focused on "book learning" rather than the needs of an industrial society. It was his view that "book work should be balanced with industrial education; and working children should spend part time in culture classes and industrial science" (Stephens, 1970, p. 39). His perspectives were much more akin to the early views of Benjamin Franklin than those of Thomas Jefferson.

In a sense, social and educational reforms at the turn of the 20th Century were also parts of a vocational education reform movement in which vocational guidance and vocational education needed to be paired. According to Stephens (1970), a historian, experts at the time argued "that a school curriculum and educational goals that mirrored the occupational structure created merely a platform and impetus for launching youth into the world of work. What was clearly needed to consummate the launch were guidance mechanisms that would insure their safe and efficient arrival in the job, without guidance experts, it was argued, other efforts at reform would be aborted ..." (p. xiv).

In the ensuing years of the 20th Century, new findings about individual differences and their relation to educational and vocational task performance unfolded, and testing began to flourish as part of school reform. As Cremin (1964) noted "the idea developed of the guidance worker as a trained professional, wise in administering and interpreting scientific instruments for the prediction of vocational and educational success" (p. 19).

Evidence of the expected relationship of guidance mechanisms (and less directly school counselors) to school reform is found during the 1930s, the years of the Great Depression, when many adolescents of high school age were out of school and out of work. The prestigious General Education Board, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, made the following statement based on a survey of the difficult situations young people of the time were experiencing and their view of school reform:
 Something must be done to provide adequate guidance, training and placement
 for these young people ... We must think in terms of educational programs
 which will accommodate the great bulk of our population up to the age of
 eighteen or nineteen years. The schools which provide for the education for
 those young people over a more extended period must recognize more frankly
 than they have in the past the particular needs, interests, and capacities
 of the students ... (Fosdick, 1962, pp. 242-243)

In a sense, until the 1950s and 1960s, one could argue that much of school reform reflected a guidance point of view rather than major support for large numbers of school counselors or even coordinated programs of guidance in schools. As the 20th Century unfolded, there were many perspectives on what a guidance point of view was. Essential in such definitions was that of Miller (1961) who argued that "the concept symbolized by the word guidance is one of assisting individuals to make plans and decisions and in implementing their development in accordance with their own emerging life patterns" (p. 15). Guidance was seen as a continuous process, not confined to any one age or grade level, concerned with understanding the individual and his or her world, including the culture or way of life in which the individual is nurtured, the way the student perceived his or her own unique world, and understanding the individual as a synthesis of his or her own and the external world.

The late 1950s witnessed the transition from reports which espoused a guidance point of view as necessary inclusions of school reform to concrete actions related to placing in every school adequate numbers of professionally prepared school counselors, with the support of an infrastructure (e.g., tests, resources, clerical assistance) that would allow guidance services to be implemented in a comprehensive fashion. In 1959, James B. Conant, the president of Harvard University, authored the book The American High School Today, which was the culmination of a 2-year study of 55 public high schools in 18 states financed by the Carnegie Foundation. In this book on school reform, Conant took a very strong position on behalf of curriculum reform in high schools, the organization of homerooms and nonacademic elective programs for students, and special arrangements for academically talented students. Most important, Conant argued that there should be one full-time school counselor for every 250 to 300 pupils in the high school. Thus, for the first time, abstractions about the needs for school counselors gave way to concrete proposals for a counseling system and for providing students with individualized programs.

Miller (1961) argued that the late 1950s and early 1960s witnessed a major "resurgence of Jeffersonian thinking about education" (p. 446). According to him, "The emphasis of the time was on the identification of the able and their education to meet manpower needs" (p. 446). No clearer symbol of such thinking exists than that of the National Defense Education Act of 1958. At the time, the United States was deeply involved in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Perhaps for the first time in history, both sides were emphasizing the use of science and technology to produce the weapon systems that would give them the competitive edge. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first manmade object into orbit around the earth. Even though the United States was close behind the Soviets in this race to space, the Soviet launch of "Sputnik" triggered a major debate in the media and the halls of Congress declaring that the United States had lost the space race, that our science and engineering capacity was inferior to the Soviet Union, that the U.S. school system had again failed the nation by its inability to prepare students with the scientific and mathematical skills needed to compete with the Soviet Union. The result of this debate was the passage in 1958 of the National Defense Education Act. Although this Act had many emphases related to school reform and the improvement of curriculum and instruction in science and mathematics, a central feature of the Act was the intent to identify and encourage able students in high school to study sciences and mathematics and to continue these studies in college. School counselors were identified in the Act as the persons in the school charged with testing students, identifying those capable of entering higher education in the sciences, and encouraging them to prepare to do so.

The National Defense Education Act included two broad provisions related to these goals. Since there were not enough professional school counselors available to carry out the goals of the Act in every high school in the nation, the Act provided funds (Title V-A), administered by state departments of education, to be allocated to schools that had submitted proposals to employ additional professional school counselors and to provide the resources (e.g., tests, occupational and educational materials) necessary to develop school guidance and counseling programs. Simultaneously, the National Defense Education Act (Title V-B) provided funds for the preparation by higher education institutions of new school counselors or the upgrading of the skills of those who had beer, employed as professional secondary school counselors. As the Act was subsequently amended, it also supported the preparation of elementary school counselors and counselors in technical institutes, community colleges, and other nonbaccalaureate postsecondary educational institutions.

The ripple effects of the National Defense Education Act had profound and positive effects on the number of school counselors, the availability of counselor education programs, the development of a professional literature in school counseling, the organization of K-12 programs of school guidance, and on the commitments of State Departments of Education to increase the certification requirements for school counselors. These results are too complex to discuss in depth here. Nevertheless, this legislation reaffirmed and extended the role of school counselors as a part of massive efforts in school reform.

Following the emphasis on school counseling for the able and the scientifically oriented students of the nation, the mid-1960s witnessed the emergence of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiative. The multiple pieces of legislation that originated in the Johnson era, in some contrast to the goals of the National Defense Education Act, emphasized the need for school reform related to preparing students for the workforce, primarily through vocational education.

Through the mid and late 1960s, a series of national reports and legislation argued that secondary education, in particular, was failing to provide adequately for the life adjustment of a major fraction of the persons of secondary school age (Cremin, 1961). These were the noncollege-bound students going directly into the work force from high school. This was a time when the Cold War and the space race were in full momentum but also a time when the United States was in and out of several economic recessions. There was growing concern about high rates of youth unemployment, increases in school dropouts, and youth training for the "disadvantaged." In his 1967 manpower message to Congress, President Johnson emphasized that "we pay too little attention to the two out of three young people who do not go on to college and the many others who do not finish" (Barton, 1994, p. 4). He called for a broader concept of apprenticeship, more opportunities for students to learn about work in education programs, and a system in which educational and work experience are brought together. He also encouraged wide-ranging analyses of the relationships between learning and earning among American youth as well as the adequacy of the "entire range of institutions that normally serve as bridges between school and work" (Barton, 1994, p. 4). One of the important corollaries of this examination of preparing youth for work and for the transition to work was a conference held in May of 1968 at Princeton University to discuss the roles of schools and other agencies in the development of better bridges between school and work for noncollege-bound youth. Some 60 experts assembled to present position papers and discuss the various issues related to the transition of youth to work. A variety of important findings emerged including the need for more occupational counseling in schools, better prepared counselors, more and better packaged occupational information, occupational exploration in the school curriculum, and closer contact between school counselors, manpower agencies, and employing institutions (Barton, 1994).

The importance of work and preparation for it was accentuated by the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 and the Vocational Education Act of 1963 and subsequently by the Vocational Education Act of 1968. In these and other pieces of legislation directed to school reform and workforce preparation, vocational guidance and counseling were emphasized and attached to such concepts as the importance of counselors in the maintenance and progress of the American Society in its respect for individual differences, informed free choice, and opportunities for constructive adulthood. Within such contexts, counseling was seen as integral to manpower policy and to the increased employability of persons from all segments of the population.

The legislation of the 1960s emphasizing the "career guidance" role of the school counselor has continued to have important implications for the school's role in preparing students for the work force and the process of transition from school to employment. Building on the important analyses of the 1960s, legislation has continued to the present to speak to the development of "career relevant" schools (Herr, 1999) and to the vital role of the school counselor in such processes. In the 1970s, the Career Education Incentive Act of 1978--repealed by Congress in 1981, building on the earlier developmental work of researchers in sites around the United States, and funded by the U.S. Office of Career Education--had created four national models of career education. The first of these was the School-Based or Comprehensive Career Education Model (Miller, 1972), which was originally intended to revitalize education by infusing the curriculum with career development themes and activities from kindergarten to grade 12. Each of the national career education models and those at state and local levels emphasized the central roles of school counselors--providing career guidance and counseling to the success of educational and work force development goals. Career education processes made it apparent that no other group of specialists is more important to its goals than school counselors (Hoyt, 1984, 1985). In this view, among the central tasks of school counselors in career guidance and in career education are helping students identify their career options, understand the personal implications of these options, plan the ways by which they can integrate the educational experiences necessary to achieve favored goals, and make decisions wisely (Herr & Cramer, 1996).

These views of the school counselors' role in career counseling and guidance have been accented and sharpened in other federal legislation directed to school reform related to the needs of students in or contemplating entry into vocational education. For example, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 and the subsequent amendments to this legislation (e.g., the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act of 1990), which has been periodically reauthorized and now covers the early years of the 21st Century, has authorized funds for programs designed to improve, expand, and extend career guidance and counseling programs to meet the career development and employment needs of vocational education students and potential students. The various interactions of the Carl D. Perkins Act have also been influential in defining career guidance programs in the schools and making them more comprehensive. For example, in Section 521 (4) of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 career guidance and counseling are defined as follows:
 The term `career guidance and counseling' means those programs (A) which
 pertain to the body of subject matter and related techniques and methods
 organized for the development in individuals of career awareness, career
 planning, career decision making, placement skills, and knowledge and
 understanding of local, state, and national occupational, education, and
 labor market needs, trends, and opportunities, and (B) which assist them in
 making and implementing informed educational and occupational choices.

Throughout the various authorizations of the Perkins Act amendments, career guidance is mentioned often as a major mechanism in schools to help students and vocational education programs to address both excellence in training and equity, access to vocational education for subpopulations who have been denied equal opportunity for training and jobs.

Although many other pieces of legislation and policy statements could be cited to address the role of school counselors in the career development of students, this analysis will conclude with the School to Work Opportunities Act of 1994. This Act has endeavored to create new models of collaboration between schools, transition mechanisms designed to facilitate the successful movement of students between school and employment, and employers. This Act has also refined the definition of career guidance and counseling in the Perkins Act and reiterated the importance of those processes in connecting and giving continuity to the career planning of students, as they prepare to implement the transition from school to work.

School Reform: A Reprise

What has been argued here is that calls for school reform have `been indigenous to U.S. education throughout its history. One hundred years ago, school reform was directed to the educational requirements emerging from the transition from an economy based in agriculture to one based in industrial operations. Today, many of the school reform proposals are motivated by the educational implications of the transition from an industrial, manufacturing economy to a highly technological, information-based service economy, in which knowledge and its application are central to international economic competition. More important, perhaps, is the reality that school reform proposals have, in some ways, dichotomized what needs to be achieved, often reiterating the Jeffersonian meritocratic views of education advanced in the National Defense Education Act and in such reports as A Nation at Risk versus the large array of legislation and policy documents accenting the need for schools to prepare students for employment and the transition to work ala Benjamin Franklin.

These two lines of school reform proposals often catch school counselors between them and push for roles and activities which emphasize the college-bound or the noncollege bound, but rarely both. Frequently, however, school reform proposals tend to minimize the contexts in which schools function and the physical and emotional needs of students in favor of advocating changes in the structures and content of schooling. As such, school reform proposals emphasizing one student population, the college bound, or another, noncollege bound students, collide in their purposes with other school reform proposals. One example will be used to make the point.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence authored A Nation at Risk, which advocated significant upgrading of the high school graduation standards in the United States (particularly in science and mathematics) and more academic course credits required for high school graduation. The report argued for more of the "new basics" (English, 4 years; mathematics, 3 years; science, 3 years; social studies, 3 years; computer science, one half year.) The report also contended that university admission requirements should be raised; more rigorous and measurable standards for student academic performance should be established; the school day and school year should be longer; and teacher preparation and educational leadership should be improved. Even though this report is frequently cited and has had a major impact on increasing academic standards for all students, its focus was again on doing better what we were already doing in school structure, organization, and content. The emphasis of the report was on the college-bound, the meritocratic, not on student variability in readiness for learning or on their interests. In this report, vocational education was essentially ignored or treated negatively. Neither this report nor many of the other school reform proposals deal with students as developing human beings, characterized by variability and individuality, invested in identity issues and personal exploration, and affected by the social and economic forces impinging on them, their peer groups and their families. A Nation at Risk suggested that all students should meet rigorous academic standards and take academic courses that are primarily appropriate for college preparation rather than a broad view of human enterprise, even though such conditions cause many students to leave school because they do not find extended participation in only academic courses to be of interest to them or relevant to their future as they perceive it. Many of these students want hands-on, direct opportunities to learn occupational skills and problem solving rather than to be immersed in what they consider to be abstract content of no direct utility to their goals.

Among the results of the implementation of the recommendations of A Nation at Risk was erosion in the number and type of vocational education programs in schools in many parts of the United States. The issue in this erosion was not the quality of vocational education programs per se but rather the fact that vocational education programs were elective, not required; therefore, when the number of academic courses required for high school are increased, there is frequently no room left in a student's schedule to participate in vocational education or other electives.

A final observation is that A Nation at Risk, and similar school reform proposals gave little systematic attention to the specialists and the mechanisms (e.g., school counselors, guidance programs) that continue to make important contributions to achieving the ends (e.g., student achievement) identified as the ultimate goal in these reports. In so doing, they have painted an incomplete, if not distorted, picture of the total environment to which school reform must be directed.

In essence, the school reform movements through the 20th Century witnessed a collision of values between the espousal of a liberal education and more academic rigor in courses as the focus of A Nation at Risk and the broader view of school reform addressed in legislation and position papers advocating that schools also be career relevant, that academic and vocational skills be integrated, and that vocational education be seen as complementary and as providing added value to academic education. Such responses are found in the rebuttal of the premises of A Nation at Risk by the report of the National Commission on Secondary Vocational Education (1985) entitled The Unfinished Agenda. This report argued that in an occupational climate in which advanced technology is pervasive and literacy, numeracy, flexibility, and teachability are the major assets of work forces engaged in the global economy, vocational education must rest on a firm foundation of basic academic skills. A second observation is that vocational education is not monolithic; it is comprised of a continuum of courses from those with less academic rigor to technical courses requiring knowledge of science and mathematics that often exceed the requirements of college preparatory programs. Further, that vocational education is not only concerned with teaching the technical aspects of job performance, but also with work habits and attitudes, career planning, and job access skills.

A final observation about the content of The Unfinished Agenda, compared to that of A Nation at Risk is the attention of the former to the importance of school counselors and to career guidance in the school.
 Specifically, it was stated that ... we need comprehensive career guidance
 programs that will provide ... information and remove some of the subtle
 status distinctions involving vocational education. Comprehensive guidance
 means counseling that is available to students covering all subjects,
 leading to all occupations.... We cannot achieve this goal of comprehensive
 guidance when counselors must deal, on the average, with 400 or more
 students. Nor can this goal be achieved unless counselors and teachers
 cooperate in new approaches to facilitate the career development of
 students, and unless counselors expand their use of group techniques,
 computer-assisted career guidance, comprehensive career information
 systems, and other methods designed to provide assistance to all students.
 Counselors must serve as a resource to integrate career guidance concepts
 and occupational information in the classroom.... (National Commission on
 Secondary Vocational Education, 1985, p.10)

As the multiple proposals for school reform, whether in the form of legislation or position papers, continue to unfold in the United States, it is important to try to envision the outcomes that would accrue if they were implemented. How would students be different than they are now, if any particular reform proposal is implemented? Would they be developing academic prowess and other skills increasingly required for educational achievement, citizenship, work choice, and adjustment? Would all students profit from precisely the same agenda of rigorous academic courses? Will one size, one educational template, fit all students equally well regardless of their aspirations, their level of emotional intelligence, or their interests and abilities? Will a rigorous academic agenda of courses in the basics prepare all students to meet the diverse needs for knowledge and skill in a comprehensive, complex, globally oriented multilayered society? Are we clear as a nation about the student outcomes from schooling that we expect? If not, does that suggest confusion about schooling itself? Can schools attend only to intellectual behavior, without addressing learning styles--differences in the forms of human ability and motivation present in students and that are required across the society? However much national reports calling for school reform ignore the multiple social problems afflicting students and their families (e.g., drug abuse, child abuse, psychological neglect, broken families, poverty), can schools ignore such phenomena or treat them only with high-stakes testing and increased academic standards? Can the different sets of educational and social values that distinguish among school reform proposals be reconciled in ways that actually facilitate student achievement and personal development?

The School Counselor and School Reform: Issues of Policy and Practice

While serving in the midst of a constantly changing educational environment stimulated by a continuing outpouring of school reform proposals, policies, and mandates, school counselors may find it difficult to remind themselves that their profession is itself a creature of school reform. The reason for school counselors to be in the schools originally was a function of the major transitions schools were experiencing in the move from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Such transitions always have crisis elements and apprehension about change associated with them. School counselors have historically been agents of change, both in individual and organizational terms. One hundred years ago, school counselors were commissioned to bring information and support to students who frequently had neither in their lives, who were engaged in child labor, often experiencing the cultural shock of immigration to a new country about which they knew little and the language of which they were slowly acquiring, where job availability was exploding but the methodologies of educational and occupational information, matching students and jobs, and educational and vocational guidance were in their infancy.

In the ensuing decades, school counseling has moved from a peripheral, ancillary role in schools to a more central one. In an increasingly complex school environment, school counselors have become important brokers of information about curricular content and outcomes, educational options, and occupational opportunities. But, in many schools, they have also been expected to take on a large array of problems that are not academic in nature but do mediate student learning. They include identifying, treating, and supporting children who experience psychological as well as physical neglect or loss within changing and sometimes dysfunctional family circumstances--single-parents and blended families, disintegrating families, loss of a parent, or incarcerated or ineffective parents. School counselors also are expected to deal with problems of chemical dependency and recovery, school violence and bullying, grief and bereavement, suicide, physical and sexual abuse, conflict resolution, anger management, learning disabilities, and, often, high-stakes testing. While some observers might argue that school counselors have neither the time nor the competency to address such problems, the fact remains that these are the issues that many school counselors deal with on a daily basis, and counselors, in many cases, have participated in education to become experts in these areas. In a school district or a community with many other mental health specialists to whom some of these student problems can be referred, the role of the school counselor may be different than is true where such referral opportunities are quite limited. In either case, in addition to ongoing expectations that school counselors should engage in preventive, developmental, or remedial efforts related to curricular choice and planning for postsecondary education, career development, decision-making, the transition from school to work, and personal adjustment, school counselors deal with. at-risk children because their needs are intense, multidimensional, and often limit their participation in learning.

From a policy standpoint, efforts to more fully integrate the services of school counselors with the services of other mental health professionals would be important, but little evidence that such initiatives have been advanced is available. Interestingly, one school reform proposal has addressed this need in terms not apparent in any other professional or school reform document. Boyer (1983), President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, in High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America, contended that as part of the school reform proposals advanced in this report, "Guidance Services should be significantly expanded. No counselor should have a caseload of more than one hundred students. Moreover, school districts should provide a referral service to community agencies for those students needing frequent and sustained professional assistance" (p. 306). If adopted in policy and legislation, such a proposal would revolutionize the availability of school counselors and their interaction with other community mental specialists in support of addressing the large range of student developmental needs and problems in living which they experience.

One of the inherent problems of school counseling in school reform is the reality that, with few exceptions, different schools encourage or require different models of school counseling. In essence, school counseling can take on different forms and has different purposes (e.g., varying degrees of emphasis on crisis intervention, educational or career planning, testing) given different assumptions about its values and priorities across school districts and states. Part of the policy concern here is what models of school counselor roles and functions are most likely to be effective under different conditions of student needs, educational priorities, and availability of resources? With some exceptions (Lapan, 2001; Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997), such questions have not been asked in research studies. School counselors must be able to address such issues with administrators as priorities for school counseling programs are established.

Even though local school districts and state education departments have the primary responsibility for the educational structure and content of local schools in the United States, there are important efforts underway to provide national standards that any school counseling program should include regardless of whatever else such programs must accomplish. In its publication, The National Standards for School Counseling Programs (American School Counselor Association, 1997), the American School Counselor Association has indicated that
 The purpose of a counseling program in a school setting is to promote and
 enhance the learning process. The goal of the program is to enable all
 students to achieve success in school and to develop into contributing
 members of our society. A school counseling program based on national
 standards provides all the necessary elements for students to achieve
 success in school. This programmatic approach helps school counselors to
 continuously assess their students' needs, identify the barriers and
 obstacles that may be hindering success, and advocate programmatic efforts
 to eliminate these barriers. (Executive Summary)

The National Standards for School Counseling Programs indicate that the areas of student development that underlie school success require that school counseling programs facilitate academic development, career development, and personal-social development. These three broad areas encompass nine standards, each of which includes a list of potential student competencies or desired learning outcomes that define the specific types of knowledge, attitudes, and skills students will obtain as a result of participating in an effective school counseling program. These standards suggest that regardless of the particular emphasis or model of school counseling that is implemented by a particular school, there is a core of student knowledge, attitudes, and skills that should be basic outcomes of any school counseling program, that these can be measured, and they are central to the mission of the school.

Another important effort underway at a national level is the identification of the results of various school counseling interventions (Sexton, Whiston, Bleuer & Walz, 1997). Such outcomes are part of increasing attention to evidence-based or results-based school counseling programs. Such efforts allow school counselors to increase the predictability of the effects of what they do, for whom, and under what conditions. They also buttress the importance and the potential of the National Standards for School Counseling to make a significant impact on the delivery and the effects of such programs.

The National Standards and the growth of evidence-based, or research-validated, approaches to the organization and delivery of school counseling represent important tools for local school counselors to share with their administrators as discussions ensue about how school counseling resources should be deployed and the priority counselors should give to various student concerns. But, such information should also be presented to those engaged in creating school reform proposals as a means of identifying the multiple contributions that school counselors can make to a school. A future step that needs to be addressed is to move from evidence-based outcomes of school counseling programs to cost-benefit analyses of these outcomes to identify their potential monetary benefits to schools of reduced drop-out rates, diminished school violence and vandalism, or other outcomes on which research studies have shown that school counselors have an impact.

As they manifest their historical legacy of being products of school reform, school counselors can take many measures that accent their contributions to schools, to student achievement, and to the facilitation of school reform (Aubrey, 1986). The following sections present some possibilities.

* Develop, own, and share expertise. Counselors in their education and experience have acquired a knowledge base of intervention techniques, concepts of student behavior, career development, individual differences, and communication processes with parents, referral sources, and community representatives that are different from those of teachers or other school personnel. School counselors need to share their expertise, their National Standards, and their knowledge base, not just with individual or groups of students, but within the larger planning structure of the school as reform proposals are being considered and implemented.

* Develop support networks. School counselors need to constantly nurture and interact with their support bases (e.g., advisory committees of parents and teachers, their fellow mental health professionals in their communities, personnel officers and employers, family and youth services, after-school youth-serving organizations). In the widest sense of the term, these support networks can serve as communications, public relations, and referral sources for school counselors as various school reform initiatives are tested and implemented.

* Implement group work as well as individual interventions. Implicit in many school reform proposals is concern for accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness in the use of school counseling resources. Often group work is more efficient, and, for some purposes, possibly more effective than individual counseling or individual meetings. Group approaches should be considered and used as fully as school counseling program goals warrant as ways to address school reform proposals that advocate efficiency and accountability.

* Use computer technology. Computers and the Internet have significant potential to relieve school counselors of some elements of administrative reporting, scheduling appointments, and communication with parents as well as with referral sources. Computer-assisted career guidance systems and selected career sites on the Internet enhance the school counseling program's ability to help students explore possible educational and employment possibilities, test their degree of interest and fit with these options, and work with the counselor on the basis of information acquired through these vehicles to personalize action plans.

* Advocate for students and monitor school policies. School counselors, in their close contacts with students, have a unique window on their perceptions of needs, desires, the climate of the school, the effects of school policies, or changes in the content and structure of the school in relation to the implementation of reform proposals. Thus, school counselors have important roles to play in monitoring the impact of school policies, curriculum modifications, and other changes in schooling on student behavior and motivation. School counselors have the skill and experience to serve as advocates for students concerning the impact of reform on the mental health, achievement, and interactions among students.

* Help students identify with personal excellence. One of the outcomes frequently sought in school reform proposals is educational excellence. However, it is a truism that no organization committed to excellence can achieve such an outcome unless each of those who work or study in the organization are committed to pursuing and achieving personal excellence. School counselors have the capability of reinforcing among students the importance of the quest for personal excellence, the personal traits and attitudes that comprise personal excellence, and the pathways that lead to such outcomes.

* Work to facilitate a school climate that treats students in holistic terms. Effective functioning in a learning environment by students is not simply an intellectual exercise. It encompasses emotional, values, and decision-making components on which school counselors and the processes they use have an impact. Students cannot choose opportunities of which they are unaware, and they cannot compete effectively when they are unsure of their own aptitudes, interests, or identity, or when they are preoccupied with their changing, perhaps abusive, neglectful, chemically dependent family situations. Intellectual effort and the quest for personal excellence of any kind frequently rests on the resolution of such matters.


Throughout the 20th Century, and in particular since the National Defense Education Act, school counselors have been identified in many pieces of legislation and in state and national policies as professionals who have the skills to address the problems of economically disadvantaged students and those at risk; sexual and racial discrimination; the choosing of curricula, postsecondary education, and jobs by students; the mainstreaming of students with disabilities; career education; physical and sexual abuse; and the reduction of school vandalism, underachievement, and school dropouts. The anecdotal and empirical evidence (e.g., Herr, 1985; Sexton et al., 1997) suggests that school counselors have risen to these challenges and met them effectively. Many of these challenges are key factors in the achievement of school reform that is comprehensive and related to the needs of students. There is every reason to contend that school counselors are key actors in the success of school reform.


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Author:Herr, Edwin L.
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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