Research & Commentary: U.S. Growth in Non-Teacher Staff
The United States spends more of its operating budget on non-teaching personnel than every other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), except Denmark.
The United States spends more of its operating budget on non-teaching personnel than every other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), except Denmark. Between 1992 and 2008, non-teaching staff in the United States grew 2.7 times faster than the number of students, yet public school students’ reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam fell slightly and mathematics scores remained flat, according to Ben Scafidi, professor of economics at Georgia College & State University.
The problem is most acute in Virginia, which employed 60,737 more non-teachers than teachers in FY 2009, more than three times as many as the next highest state, Ohio. In addition, Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan are also identified as significantly “top-heavy” with non-teaching staff. Some education officials say the “non-teacher” classification is too broad and includes several employees who still actively engage students and promote academic and nonacademic well-being, but the significant rise in non-teaching personnel is undeniable.
The United States scores near the OECD average in reading and science and below average in mathematics, despite being among the highest spenders. Although this cannot be blamed entirely on administrative bloat, many top-scoring East Asian countries attribute their success to making sure their teachers are top-quality. Other countries, such as Brazil, Columbia, and Poland, dramatically improved their rankings by raising teacher standards and providing more incentives for high-achieving students to become teachers.
Given the high cost and poor results of our education system, officials at all levels should reconsider whether expenditures on non-teaching staff are the best use of taxpayer funds. Lawmakers should consider redirecting education funds toward attracting and incentivizing quality teachers through merit pay, implementing innovative digital learning programs, and giving parents education savings accounts.
The following documents provide additional information on non-teacher staff and student achievement.
The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools
In an October 2012 paper for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a professor of economics at Georgia College & State University, Ben Scafidi, found an increasing amount of U.S. tax dollars being spent on hiring non-teaching staff in public schools between 1992 and 2008, even though student achievement has not improved. Scafidi points out the United States is alone among wealthy nations in committing higher percentages of education dollars to non-teacher staff, and the spending involves serious opportunity costs.
The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools, Part II
In a follow-up to his 2012 paper for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, economics professor Ben Scafidi identifies the 21 most “top heavy” states, those that employed more non-teachers than teachers in FY 2012. By far, the problem was most acute in Virginia, which employed 60,737 more non-teachers than teachers.
The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach
Matt Richmond, a research analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes American public schools spend more of their operating budgets on non-teachers than every other country in the world, except Denmark. Although Richmond doesn't evaluate the issue, he says it is a topic worth examining further, especially during a time of tight state and local government budgets.
Study Finds Oregon Schools Top Heavy With Non-Teacher Staff
A local TV station in Medford, Oregon covers the Friedman Foundation report and interviews two Oregon education officials, one state and one district. The officials defend the non-teacher employee surge by claiming that although they’re technically non-teaching and non-credentialed positions, the employees are actively involved with the children’s learning progress and are therefore worth the expense.
School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?
A September 2014 paper published by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution examines whether quantitative research can demonstrate school superintendents have an impact on student achievement. Although the authors conclude superintendents may affect the financial health of the district, parent and student satisfaction, and how efficient tax dollars are spent, there is no quantitative research definitively establishing they have any impact on student learning.
How Escalating Education Spending Is Killing Crucial Reform
In an October 2012 paper for The Heritage Foundation, Lindsey Burke, an education fellow, criticizes the Obama administration’s proposal to increase education spending to avoid teacher layoffs. In its proposal, Burke notes, the White House consistently conflates education jobs with teacher jobs, but the numbers show teachers comprise only half of such education jobs. Burke also writes, “Since 2000, the percentage of teachers as a portion of school staff has decreased by nearly 3 percent; since 1970, that percentage has declined by 16.5 percent. Notably, the percentage of teachers as a portion of school staff has decreased more than 28 percent since 1950.”
Percentage Change in the Number of Employees in Higher Education Institutions, by Category of Employee, 1975 and 1976 to 2011
Figure 1 from the American Association of University Professors’ Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession shows full-time non-faculty positions in higher education institutions have increased 369 percent since the 1970s, far more than any other category.
Research & Commentary: Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality
Heartland Institute Research Fellow Joy Pullmann notes student-teacher ratios have fallen along with teacher quality. Due in part to unchallenging education major coursework, dubious teacher preparation requirements, and the restrictive approach to advancement in education, many high-quality people are put off by the teaching profession, and low-quality people are consistently being drawn in.
Shanghai Teens Top International Education Ranking, OECD Says
CNN reports teens from the Chinese city of Shanghai are the best in the world in math, reading, and science, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). One Chinese official says Shanghai “will spend a lot of resources in making sure that each teacher is well trained, has opportunities to go abroad, [and] has opportunities to learn from the best teachers."
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/education, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Logan Pike, Heartland’s state government relations manager, at email@example.com or 312/377-4000.