There are too many people working in America’s schools.
From 1950 to 2009, the amount of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees grew 386 percent while the amount of public school students only grew by 96 percent, according to a recently released report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence.
Looking even closer at the data reveals that the number of teachers increased by 252 percent during this time period, while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent – more than seven times the increase in students.
Some states – like Iowa, Louisiana and Mississippi – even increased their staffs when their student populations were declining. By far, the worst offender was my home state of Maine, which saw a decline of 10.8 percent in its student population, but an increase of 76.1 percent in its total staff from 1992 to 2009.
There is no evidence that student achievement has improved because of school staffing increases. Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam for 17-year-old students in public schools did not increase between 1992 and 2009. Graduation rates also stagnated during this time period.
Adding this much additional staff comes with a significant cost. In fact, if the teaching force had grown 1.5 times as fast as the growth in students, public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year.
The increase in teachers resulted primarily from the mistaken belief that class size is the key variable that affects student achievement – a myth I dispelled in a previous blog post.
The increase in staff has led to excessive bureaucratization of school systems. A 1987 study found that teachers spend eight hours a week completing paperwork – it makes sense to think that it has only become more burdensome since then.
Unfortunately, Illinois follows this trend. From 1992 to 2009, total staff at public schools grew at more than twice the rate of the state’s student population – 27.8 percent versus 14.3 percent. Teaching staff grew at 1.5 times the rate of the student population – 14.3 percent versus 21.5 percent. And administrators and other non-teaching staff grew at 2.5 times the rate of the student population – 14.3 percent versus 35.9 percent.
This explosion in employment shows just how far the education system has strayed from its primary responsibility of helping students become intelligent, informed and hard-working members of society.