Study: Half of All School Employees Not Teachers, 130% Increase Since 1970

Zoey DiMauro | August 18, 2014 | 3:57pm EDT
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(AP photo) -- The ranks of non-teachers - such as administrators, counselors, teacher aides and cafeteria workers - has swelled 130 percent since 1970 and they now make up 50 percent of all public school employees according to a new study, The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach.

Looking at data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that the growth of non-teaching staff has greatly outpaced student growth over the past four decades.

From 1970 to 2010, the number of students grew by 8.6 percent, while the number of non-teaching personnel increased by 130 percent.  Non-teachers now consume over a quarter of all education expenditures, the study found.

In addition, America now spends a greater percentage of its education funding on non-teachers than any other country in the world besides Denmark.

A previous study from the Friedman Foundation, The School Staffing Surge, found that “states could have saved more than $24 billion annually if they had increased/decreased the employment of administrators and other non-teaching staff at the same rate as students between 1992 and 2009.”

However, test scores and graduation rates show little evidence of improvement despite the explosive growth of non-teaching positions.

“As I showed in my study,” Ben Scafidi, author of The School Staffing Surge, told, student achievement in public schools did not rise between 1970 and 2008--even though staffing skyrocketed.”

With the exception of these two reports, the sharp increase in non-teaching public school employees has received little media attention or public scrutiny. That may be due in part to the difficulty in getting recent data on the trend.

“The national statistics obtainable from the U.S. Department of Education, for instance, are rich with information about school teachers and principals,” the Fordham study pointed out, “but crude and unhelpful when it comes to non-teaching personnel.”

“At a time when budgets are tight and achievement weak, it’s unthinkable not to consider what personnel shifts might strengthen both performance and efficiency,” The Hidden Half maintains.

Some states have a much higher ratio of non-teaching employees per student than others. For example, Virginia, Vermont, and Wyoming have 104 non-teachers per every 1,000 students, while Nevada and South Carolina make do with 26 to 28 non-teachers for every 1,000 students.

Even within states, there are major differences in the number of non-teachers per school district, according to the Fordham Institute study. For example, rural areas tend to have higher numbers of non-teachers than urban areas, often because sparsely populated districts cannot share specialists or other personnel like a city district could.

The largest increase in non-teacher positions was for teacher aides, employees who work in the classroom to give students individual attention, often children with special needs.

The passage of laws like the Disabilities Education Act and the Bilingual Education Act in the 1970’s significantly contributed to the a higher need for teachers aides. The Fordham study found that a higher number of teacher aides generally corresponds with a greater presence of children with individualized education plans  (IEPs).

But special needs kids are not the only reason for the increased personnel. The study notes that “during roughly the same period, schools were further burdened with obligations to provide special programs and services for youngsters with drug issues, health challenges, sex-and-sometimes-pregnancy activity, homelessness, and a host of discipline and family challenges.”

But the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a large union representing a variety of school employees, disagreed with the Fordham study.

After contacted AFT, the union issued a press release saying that “school support staff are an essential part of our public schools. To imply that we should thin their ranks is a direct threat to the public school students who rely on them.”

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