| December 5, 2012

Administrative Hiring Binge Costs $229 Million Annually

Moderator Bob Schieffer was only partly right in a recent presidential debate when he said, “I think we all love teachers.”

Decades-long employment increases among public school administrators and nonteaching personnel imply they are loved more so. But there is a cost to such staff growth, particularly to those who matter most: students and their teachers.

From 1992 to 2009, the number of public school students in Oklahoma increased 9.7 percent. Meanwhile, teachers’ numbers grew by 23.7 percent while administrators and other nonteaching staff experienced a growth rate of 27.5 percent.

For teachers, more administrators likely means added bureaucracy. In 1995, David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, two staunch public school advocates, bemoaned the bureaucratization placed on teachers and principals. Had Oklahoma’s number of school administrators and nonteaching staff increased at the same rate as students since 1992, $229 million could have been saved annually and subsequently allotted toward salary increases for high-quality teachers, private school scholarships for children in need, tax relief for Oklahomans paying the state’s bills, or some other worthy purpose.

That trend isn’t unique to Oklahoma. Nationwide, the number of school administrators and nonteaching staff increased 46 percent since 1992, compared with 17 percent growth among students and 32 percent increases for teachers.

Even more staggering, since 1950, administrators’ and nonteachers’ numbers grew 702 percent, compared with 96 percent for students and 252 percent for teachers.

Growth in students and public school personnel 1992 to 2009

Those staffing increases might be worth it if academic results improve accordingly. But they don’t, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

On NAEP’s fourth-grade reading exam, Oklahoma’s average score dropped to 217 in 2009, from 220 in 1992 (on a 500-point scale). On the fourth-grade math test, scores did rise to 237 from 220; however, those levels are still unacceptably low. That trend is causing the United States to fall behind our international competitors in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Among the 33 other OECD countries, 17 countries had higher average scores than the U.S., 5 had lower average scores, and 11 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average” on the Program for International Student Assessment exam. And wouldn’t you know it, whereas OECD nations spend, on average, 63.8 percent of expenditures on teachers, the U.S. spends 54.8 percent.

The nation, and Oklahoma, need to take an entirely different approach to education. Rather than fund and reward the school system’s producers, the state should empower and support its consumers, i.e., parents and students. That transition would effectively end the monopoly held by public schools over education, which has allowed them to engage in this decades-long hiring binge.

Parents, as informed consumers, would choose the schooling options where their children’s funding can go the furthest—and that would be in schools with less bureaucracy and more great teachers.

Ben Scafidi is a professor of economics at Georgia College & State University, a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and author of “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools.” His article “School Choice Improves School Districts’ Fiscal Health” appeared in the July 2012 issue of Perspective.

Growth in per pupil spending and education expenditures

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