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Half of All School District Employees Aren’t Teachers
Whenever parents are unhappy with America’s education system, politicians and professionals have one answer. Whether the complaint is dropping test scores, overcrowded classrooms, or the gelatinous sludge passed off as meatloaf, sophisticates promoting the status quo all say the same thing: “Give us more money.”
Every election cycle, the usual suspects beg voters to support new borrowing and/or raise taxes. Campaign signs show frowning kids and concerned teachers, beseeching civic-minded passers-by to dig a little deeper. If elections required truth in advertising, the signs instead might feature palatial school district office buildings and bleachers filled with bureaucrats and overpaid contractors.
A new study shows that the number of non-teachers on U.S. school payrolls has soared. Since 1970, non-teaching staff grew by 130%, while the number of teachers only grew 54%. Over that same time period, student enrollment increased by a mere 8.6%.
The report, produced by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, shines a light on that forgotten group of public education professionals they call “the Hidden Half.” The title reveals a little-known truth: 50% of all staff employed by school districts aren’t even teachers.
Fordham’s findings reinforce previous studies. In 2012, the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice found that since 1950, U.S. public schools have increased their non-teaching positions by a shocking 702%.
While public schools in big cities are often singled out for criticism, Fordham discovered that the main culprits in this administrative explosion are rural districts. Cities average about 57 non-teaching staff for every 1,000 students. Meanwhile, rural areas have about 74 non-teachers for every 1,000 kids. Rural school districts also are increasing their support staff at a faster rate than their metropolitan counterparts.
The U.S. spends much more on non-teaching staff than every developed country outside of Denmark. This includes nations often presented as our educational superiors, such as Finland, Korea and Austria.
How is this growth necessary and how can it possibly be sustainable? Fordham’s Chester Finn breaks down the findings:
Our sense is that these millions of people have quietly accumulated over the years as districts simply added employees in response to sundry needs, demands, and pressures—including state and federal mandates and funding streams—without carefully examining the decisions they were making or considering possible tradeoffs and alternatives. This was the path of least resistance and, at a time of rising budgets, was viable even if imprudent.
But it’s no longer sustainable in the public sector any more than the private. Observe how private firms go about reducing costs, boosting productivity, enhancing organizational efficiency, and increasing profitability: they almost always start with staffing. The Pentagon is putting itself through similar self-scrutiny. So is the U.S. Postal Service.
One could list plenty more examples. Changing staff—and staff-related budgets—is never easy, especially in the public sector, due to politics, contracts, and civil-service rules. But that’s what leaders are for: to overcome obliviousness, work through politics, catalyze rethinking, and rearrange practices that no longer deliver the required results at an affordable cost.
This growth will continue until politicians and school administrators are challenged. Voters should refuse new spending until this growth in unnecessary staffing is stopped and reversed.Published in General
If you think K-12 schools are bad, colleges and universities are much worse.
Much worse how? US universities are the best in the world, by a wide margin. Is that what counts for “bad” these days?
I think it is important to somehow gather the data on the staff growth that is directly tied to MANDATES. (especially the unfunded kind.) and place the burden and criticism on those who mandated the staffing.
If I could ask for one thing, I would ask that the communities held the people in charge of making decisions accountable, and put those feet to the fire.
Where is the VAM for administrators?
While teachers do the bulk of the “work” of schools (instruction), they have little power in terms of the decisions made regarding resources, facilities, etc.
I would like to comment on this thread at length, but I have a full raft of administrative mandates that must be addressed before I return to my classroom duties on Monday. I hope the rest of you have a wonderful weekend.
A lot of info here, without any particular “conclusions” to be drawn:
1) There’s no evidence that this has any impact on student or school performance, even if this is implied here by saying that we have “dropping scores” etc.
2) There’s no info here on what these non-teaching positions are. Janitors? Security guards? Bus drivers? “Administrators”? How exactly do these positions impact student performance for better or worst?
3) There’s no info here on demographic or geographic characteristics of these schools, over the last 40-50 years, which may contribute to these trends. Consolidation of school buildings, for example, from small rural schools to larger centralized schools which serve a more geographically diverse area? Lots of things can be at play.
4) Rural schools spend far less per student than urban schools. Yet here we are presented with the argument that rural schools have more “non-teaching staff”, and tie this with budgets. These two facts seem to contradict each other.
5) Factors that predict student performance are mostly parent, student and teacher characteristics. Lots of schools with lots of “overhead”, that perform spectacularly well. Other characteristics seem to be at play.
Not only has the number of administrative staff grown out of all proportion, many districts are building Taj Mahal physical plants. This is the reason I stopped voting for every school bond put on the ballot long ago. But in California, no spending is too much spending “for the children.” The fact that the children get a lousy education while the California Teachers Association gets more dues-paying members and a nice new headquarters building has been lost on our voters. If you could break that union’s grip on education here people would start to learn that more money does not equal better results.
Something not reported here: what % of spending goes to “administrative” expenditures in schools?
Answer: about 8%.
One would think this number would be a lot more important to know, than the raw number of how many “administrators” there are.
Again, a lot more nuanced analysis is needed here before resorting to the traditional knee-jerk reaction of “we’re all doomed!”
Are you sure it is a raft? not an ark?
The teacher’s Bucket of BS challenge…
A bucket full of adminis-trivia and an unsharpened pencil dumped on your head.
No choice. No option. Just do it.
Oh, how we long for the simpler days of ice, lots of ice and water.
But who are those “non-teachers”? We have about 1000 students in our High School, with 70 odd teachers. There are 3 on-site administrators (principal and 2 APs), 5 secretaries, 5 guidance counselors, 5 or 6 part time hall monitors/security, the school counselor and psychologist (2 people) and I would guess a dozen people in the cafeteria and roughly as many custodians. Then there are the 3 superintendents (who’s office building is best described as “decrepit” rather than “palacial”) and I have no idea how many bus drivers that also service the elementary and middle school.
I grant that there are some places that are overblessed with administrators, but I don’t think that people outside the school realize just how much support staff are required to keep the place going.
Been teaching in a 50 year old building for almost 20 years now. People are amazed when I tell them I teach summer school and there is no air conditioning (the wiring would never handle the load). The building has been renovated and expanded many times, the last to update the science rooms, mine included. We worked with the architects to design the renovations, and toured other districts to see what did and didn’t work for them. One of the stops was at a nearby, much wealthier district where I had once worked as a leave replacement. They opened a new building the year after I left, and it was my first time inside. It was like walking into a shopping mall – I would guess the lobby had 40 foot ceilings, and was easily 100 feet long. It was, naturally, empty most of the day, and it was air conditioned. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of a waste of taxpayer money that was.
How do you define “best in the world”? Because most foreign colleges have a different culture and requirements than US schools do (In Brit colleges, you pretty much just study your chosen field, your “major” here; Brits don’t do the system of Majors and Minors that we do). Second, in the US, college is now a substitute for the kind of job training you get at “lesser” institutions in places like Germany. No one else is taking the “send all kids to a 4 year college” madness that we’re pursuing. Last, college has been watered down in the US as we’ve eased entrance requirements and admitted more kids. Old profs themselves will tell you this. We have kids in colleges that have no business being in college. I think we are coasting on reputation to some extent now. When the college bubble blows, much of this will be made obvious.
Then why did schools not require a massive support staff in the past? As you saw, student population grew much less than the staff did.
Jon, I hail from Oklahoma — where most of the school districts are rural. Part of the story is that these districts are too small. Every one has to have a superintendent and support staff on a considerable scale. Consolidate school districts and the ratio of staff to teachers will go down quite a bit. Of course, consolidate school districts and you will reduce the number of local jobs. Patronage plays a very large role.
I’m not going to go into this discussion since it’s off topic here. But lets just say I can’t find a single point I agree with you on this.
There’s more than enough evidence to demonstrate just how, and why US universities are by far the best in the world, by about 100 miles.
Considering the state and federal mandates that were mentioned as part of the cause of staff growth: Another thing that makes cutting staff and budgets difficult for the citizens of a school district is outside funding. If the school has gotten Federal grant money (always with strings attached), then it is money the local citizens don’t control, and the strings are conditions that the local citizens don’t control.
I don’t know what fraction of our school’s budget comes from outside our county (probably not a lot), but it plays a role, and the school sometimes goes to lengths to secure this money. They would be all the more responsive to their voters if they only had local money to support themselves. I’ve suggested a law that my school not be allowed to recieve any outside money, for just this reason. (Fat chance!)
In my school district, the non-teacher employees out-number the teachers 4 to 1. There are many layers of administrators and teachers whose job doesn’t include working with children. Some of those people work with adults to improve their teaching, but many more are simply managing data and proving to our Big Ed overlords that every jot and tittle is executed correctly with the money they have generously returned to us from the tax dollars we are forced to fork over.
I love being a teacher. I LOVE it! But in my nineteen years of doing this, I am astounded at how much the bureaucracy has expanded. Yes, we need to be accountable for the public money we use to provide public schools. But, when I’m starting this year out with 31 nine-year-olds in one classroom, and there are THREE people in our building who are paid as teachers, but do not actually teach, it seems like the money isn’t being spent well. My two fellow fourth grade teachers (32 each for them) would love to reduce the bodies in our classrooms by six or seven kids. But we are told that we cannot afford another 4th grade teacher. I say that the students can’t afford to be crammed into such a large unit if we expect them to really learn anything this year.
Let me just throw this out for comment. If school districts are anything like the state bureaucracy that I’m part of, the big increase in non-administrative personnel may well be in the IT department. In my field (state appellate court), the IT department has grown by leaps and bounds, sometimes at the cost of positions in the research department (the more traditional part of the appellate court). From my wife’s former employment in a school district, I know the same is true there, though I don’t know to what degree. But think about it: back in the ’50s and ’60s when I was going through elementary and secondary school, there was no IT department. The closest thing to IT was the student volunteers who worked the AV equipment! But now every school district has to have an IT department to handle all the internal technology and also to support things like iPads for the students, computer labs, etc. And these departments, like all departments in all bureaucracies, tends to expand. Now, none of that is to discount other administrative personnel increases – many of which are responses to state and federal mandates. But don’t discount or ignore the IT increases.
Enormous bureaucratic fat and cultural feel-good sinecures. UC San Diego has a massive multi-level set of luxuriously funded diversity offices, to which it has recently added, while eliminating “a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering; it also eliminated a master’s program in comparative literature and courses in French, German, Spanish, and English literature.”
They also lost several prestigious researchers whose salaries the not hiring new diversity mavens could have funded.
My spouse is a non-teaching employee at the district level. Her job is to manage the compliance of the district against state and federal education & disability law. Essentially she makes sure that everything was done per the regulations, and if not then she assures that the district gets that process together so that they are in compliance. She also educates all the school districts employees on how to comply. Why is that important, and why does that help the taxpayer? Well if its not done right, then the district gets sued, and loses millions in legal fees and penalties. And she’s very busy, even when school isn’t in session. Grant some better immunity.
These three links will give you an idea of the percentages of teaching and non-teaching costs in three states: California (page 30), Oklahoma, and Washington (page 18). It’s pretty easy to see how half of public school system employees wouldn’t be teachers, especially given the relatively high pay of teachers vs. bus drivers, custodians, etc.
Furthermore, what’s called “admin” staff may not tell the whole story. Central administration is one thing. but “student support” or “teaching support” or “instructional spending” ends up adding a lot of overhead that’s not strictly admin staff overhead.
Consolidate too much, though, and you create another set of problems. Keep like with like and keep it small enough for the administration to really know what is going on in their schools — otherwise the district is only another layer of distant bureaucracy.
Of course, private schools manage to operate independently without all that extra support staff. Maybe federal and state regulations create burdens that are better managed through economies of scale and larger districts… but we’re dealing with either unnecessary regulations, unnecessary positions, or (most likely) some combination.
Excellent question, and almost impossible to answer without knowing exactly where this growth occured. Are there more bus drivers? Counselors? Security? Administrators? Secretaries? Are we including teacher aides? My guess is that there are a variety of factors involved. Newer, larger schools need more custodians and grounds. Movement from urban to rural school means more need for transportation. Safety regulations more need for security. More regulation and paperwork overall increasing the need for clerical staff and administrators.