Administrative bloat in US public schools

By Mark J. Perry, Published March 9, 2013, In American Enterprise Institute

growth in schoolsOriginally posted in January, now re-posted…..

From Benjamin Scafidi at The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice:

America’s public schools are bloated with bureaucracy and skinny on results.  Nationwide since 1950, the number of public school administrative and non-teaching positions has soared 702 percent while the student population increased just 96 percent. Over that same period, teachers’ numbers also increased — 252 percent — but still far short of administrators and non-teaching personnel (see chart above).

Notably, that hiring trend has been just as prominent over the past two decades. From 1992 to 2009, students’ numbers increased 17 percent whereas administrators and other non-teaching staff rose 46 percent. And during that time, some states actually lost students yet kept hiring more non-teachers.

Of course, those hiring patterns might be warranted if students’ academic gains kept pace. Academic outcomes, however, have not experienced similar growth. Public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970, and government data show reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fell slightly between 1992 and 2008. Math scores on the NAEP Long-Term Trend were stagnant during the same period.

Such irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars is indefensible. As state leaders continue to find ways to keep their fiscal houses in order, they shouldn’t fret that today’s economy is causing some to trim fat in public schools. It will serveteachers, students, and taxpayers well.

For example, had non-teaching personnel increased at the same rate as students nationwide, American public schools would have an additional $24.3 billion annually— funds that could be used to give quality teachers raises, scholarships to students in need, relief to taxpayers, or some other worthy purpose. For some states, savings would be in the millions; for others, they’re in the billions.

MP: The administrative bloat in US public schools looks just like the trend in public universities of much, much higher growth in full-time college administrators than the increases in full-time professors or students. This illustrates a good reason to distrust government and publicly funded organizations. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, government organizations like public schools replace progress and greater efficiency with stagnation and higher costs, and generally substitute uniform mediocrity for the variety essential for that experimentation which can bring tomorrow’s laggards above today’s mean and lead to greater organizational efficiency.

Consider the following cases of bloated, costly public school administration from my 1995 article ”The Educational Octopus,” which provide some anecdotal evidence to support the administrative bloat illustrated in the chart above.

1. The Chicago Board of Education, which has 3,300 employees, is larger than the entire Japanese Ministry of Education.

2. The New York City public schools system has 250 times as many administrators as the New York Catholic school system (6,000 administrators in the public school system versus 24 in the Catholic school system), even though New York public schools have only four times as many students as the Catholic schools.  In general, Catholic schools operate much more like private enterprises than unionized, public school monopolies, so it’s no surprise that Catholic schools don’t suffer from ”administrative bloat” to the extent public schools do.

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