Friedman Foundation Takes a Critical Look at Administrative Bloat in Public Schools
Lindsey Burke /
The Friedman Foundation has published an excellent report detailing the administrative bloat plaguing our nation’s public schools. The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools shows dramatic increases in teaching and non-teaching staff over the past five decades despite modest increases in student enrollment.
As we detailed in a recent report on growth in non-teaching positions in public schools across the country, student enrollment has increased just 8 percent since 1970, while the number of teachers has increased 60 percent, and the number of non-teaching administrative and other staff has increased 138 percent. (continues below chart)
The Friedman report, authored by Ben Scafidi, PhD, takes an even longer look, demonstrating that since 1950, public school enrollment has increased 96 percent, while the number of teachers has increased 252 percent and the number of non-teaching personnel (administrators and other staff) has increased an astonishing 702 percent. “Put differently,” Scafidi notes, “the rise in non-teaching staff was more than seven times faster than the increase in students”:
Between 1950 and 2009, the pupil-staff ratio declined to 7.8 students per public school employee from 19.3 students per public school employee. By 2009, there were fewer than eight public school students per adult employed in the public school system. The drop in the pupil-teacher ratio also was large—the pupil-teacher ratio was 27.5 students per teacher in 1950 and only 15.4 in 2009.
Scafidi also shows how this administrative bloat has affected schools on a state-by-state basis (and uses an interactive map to make the point). Of note: “Nine states with declining student populations had significant increases in public school personnel—D.C., Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Vermont.”
The Friedman report notes that the dramatic reduction in class size over the decades has not led to increases in student achievement. Why? As Scafidi reports, an increase in teacher quantity has not produced an increase in teacher quality:
As public schools have reduced class sizes continually since at least 1950, they have had to hire more teachers. And, the evidence is in—the disparity in effectiveness across teachers is considerable. Accordingly, state governments and local public school boards should have been more concerned with improving teacher effectiveness than lowering class sizes.
Continuing a trend of growing staff positions in our nation’s public schools won’t create the types of improvements that the system so desperately needs.
Instead, public school districts should trim bureaucracy and work on long-term reform options for better targeting of taxpayer resources. And decision making should be decentralized, placing staffing and other decisions in the hands of principals, teachers, and parents.
Finally, parents—and teachers—should have options. We’ll never see improvement in our nation’s education system without providing students with a choice about which schools—public, private, virtual, or homeschooling—will best meet their unique learning needs.