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Measure Your Ethical Behavior
Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.
Tuesday May 01, 2018
by: Carolyn Stone, Ed.D.

Section: Inside Insight

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Your school district has a long history of Caucasian and higher socioeconomic students being overrepresented in gifted and talented (GT) programs and students of color and students on free and reduced lunch being underrepresented. You intend to exercise your ethical imperative to increase the diversity of students eligible for GT services. Can you measure ethical behavior?
Data-driven school counseling and ethical action are agreeable and faithful companions. The ethical imperative outlined in the 2004 ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors, reiterated and enlarged in the 2010 and 2016 revisions, underscores that ethical advocacy is not just desirable; it is required. Always at the ready, the ethical school counselor will take up the charge to promote a social justice agenda to help all students from all ethnicities, cultures, classes, socioeconomic levels, genders and sexual identities to realize brighter futures.

Ethical action requires the examination and desegregation of critical data elements that are the key indicators of the many factors schools address on a daily basis. Critical data elements include attendance, GT, promotion, suspensions, graduation and postsecondary-going rates, as well as standardized test results, discipline incidents and course-taking patterns. By using data, school counselors can accurately present the current situation of student challenges and accomplishments in all of the key areas that are publicly displayed. Using data to tell the story identifies the needs of the students in the school counselor’s caseload.

Data paints a vivid picture of a school and its students. It’s a graphic representation of the successes and failures of our systems and provides the roadmap to areas that need our ethical intervention. Examining data reveals the school-/systemwide challenges that affect opportunity, such as participation in the GT program. Without data the school counselor might only be guessing that GT classes are stratified along race and socioeconomic status lines. Using data can help the school counselor set goals for increasing underrepresented groups into the GT program.

Data helps school counselors identify and eliminate any school policies or practices that stratify certain demographic groups’ opportunity for GT education and allows the school counselor to set data goals to quantify positive change. Data helps the ethical school counselor identify, illuminate and eradicate the disparities in who is accessing the GT program and other rigorous courses and programs.

According to the National Association of Gifted Children, national and international data show only a tiny fraction of minority and low-socioeconomic students in the United States reach the highest gifted programs and advanced courses. A 2010 study by McBee analyzed 326,352 data sets collected by the Georgia Department of Education. The probability of being identified as gifted depended strongly on student race and socioeconomic status and varied strongly across schools.

“As the number of minority students’ increases and income disparity in the U.S. grows, it is imperative that we address these excellence gaps in student achievement,” states the National Association of Gifted Children. According to a 2009 report by McKinsey and Company, “Closing the performance gap between low-income and other students could increase gross domestic product by as much as 5 percent.”

The hard facts of national economic security illustrate that all students regardless of racial, gender or economic backgrounds have to participate fully in educational opportunities for excellence. Does your school mimic the problem? School counselors as systemic change agents can determine if the problem exists in their school and take proactive steps toward equity in opportunities.

The other end of the continuum provides an opportunity to practice one’s ethics. The 2011 congressional report on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is the most recent one with disaggregated data based on race, continues to show disparity and an over-identification of African-American males at roughly twice the national average. As a school counselor, it’s your ethical imperative to help lead stakeholders to examine general practices causing such stratification. For example, not all students can follow the traditional learning style of being able to sit and pay attention at length and work independently. School counselors are often in a position to advocate for effective interventions short of special education identification. School counselors can take a leadership role in helping the educators at their school think and act differently about students’ classroom and learning styles.

Challenging the status quo is not only an ethical imperative, it is also a legal one. The legal system is based on the premise that every citizen should be given consideration without fear or favor. New York City Public Schools represents one of a number of legal complaints around the country NAACP branches have filed. The New York NAACP along with a broad coalition of New York organizations challenged the admissions process at New York’s specialized high schools. Elite public schools and programs, which provide key pathways to college, are among the most segregated in the nation.

Participation in advanced coursework means access to greater opportunities. Using the results of analyzed data, the ethical school counselor can illuminate and challenge the status quo and question the rules and regulations that deny advanced courses for all students. When examining rigorous coursework, findings indicate 66 percent of all high schools offer physics but just 40 percet of high schools with the highest enrollments of African-American and Hispanic students offer physics. For calculus, the numbers are even bleaker with 55 percent of all high schools offering calculus but just 29 percent of high schools with the highest enrollments of African-American and Hispanic students offering calculus, according to the National Association of Gifted Children.

NAACP v. Antioch Unified and NAACP v. Richmond Public Schools are just two of dozens of lawsuits around the country illuminating disparities involving discipline of African-American students.  According to the federal Office for Civil Rights, in 2011, African-Americans students made up 26 percent of the student body in Antioch Unified but accounted for 60 percent of suspensions, and in 2015, African-American students made up 76 percent of the student body in Richmond Public Schools but accounted for 93 percent of suspensions. According to the Office for Civil Rights, the nation’s suspension rate has increased 10 percent since 2000, more than doubling since the 1970s, with African-American students three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. The suspension-to-prison pipeline is well-documented.  “Overly punitive discipline policies damage the learning environment, deny African-American students and students with disabilities of their right to an education and push children into the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Leslie Mehta, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

Students have the right to understand the full weight and meaning of their program of study and how rigor is often a determinant of greater economic opportunities. Access is more than an open door. Students need safety nets to inform them they can stretch and strive and challenge themselves.
School counselors use their political astuteness to negotiate through the systems in which they must move and help students develop the ability to do the same. School counselors strive daily to influence the systemic environment so students have equitable access to education. School counselors all over the country are measuring their ethical behavior to make certain one particular group of students isn’t erroneously determined to require or be denied special education. The stratification of educational attainment opportunities can be eliminated with focused, data-informed, ethical action on the part of all educators. Closely examining schoolwide issues that cloud success is the first step in informing and guiding the development of an ethical school counseling program.

Although court cases and the law can play an important role, ethical standards adhere to an even higher standard than the legal standard of fair and equal. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said it best, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

Carolyn Stone, Ed.D., is a professor, University of North Florida, and chair of ASCA's Ethics Committee. To submit your questions for a future Legal/Ethical column, e-mail ethics@schoolcounselor.org.

Ethical Imperative
The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors state, in part:
Understand how prejudice, privilege and various forms of oppression based on ethnicity, racial identity, age, economic status, abilities/disabilities, language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity, appearance and living situations (e.g., foster care, homelessness, incarceration) affect students and stakeholders (B.3.1.).
Work toward a school climate that embraces diversity and promotes academic, career and social/emotional development for all students (B.3.k).
School counselors are advocates, leaders, collaborators and consultants who create systemic change by providing equitable educational access and success by connecting their school counseling programs to the district’s mission and improvement plans. School counselors demonstrate their belief that all students have the ability to learn by advocating for an education system that provides optimal learning environments for all students (Preamble).