The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach

At the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, Ohio’s school districts employed 132,000 or so individuals who were not classified as teachers or administrators in 2010. Who are these people, what services do they provide, and do their efforts help students achieve? In this new report, my Fordham colleague Matthew Richmond  explores the “hidden half” of school personnel in Ohio and across the nation. The study documents a huge increase in non-teaching personnel over the last several decades—an increase that has received almost no attention, despite its sizeable implications on district budgets.

In 2010, non-teachers comprised half of the U.S. public-school workforce—up from 40 percent in 1970, and 30 percent in 1950. Taken together, their salaries and benefits total one quarter of all current K-12 education expenditure. The story in Ohio mirrors national trends: In 1986, Ohio had just 47 non-teaching staff for every 1,000 students. By 2010, that number rose to 75. When the study disaggregated the category of non-teaching personnel (a sort of catch-all classification of non-teachers, including administrators), the largest growth occurred in the teacher-aide category. From 1970 to 2010, this group swelled from 1.7 percent of the U.S. public-school workforce to 11.8 percent, an increase of more than 590 percent.

The study indicates that neither enrollment numbers nor increased federal regulation is able to explain much of the growth of non-teaching staff (especially post-1980). But has the increase in the number of students with disabilities contributed to the growth? The study’s analysis suggests that increased demand for special-education services could be one contributing factor, and those increased demands were the most common explanation for staff growth given by district leaders. While there is a positive correlation between the number of students with an IEP and the total number of non-teaching personnel, the correlation does not appear to play a large part in staffing decisions. Interestingly, the study also notes that districts in or near cities have fewer teacher aides per student than districts in rural areas.

While the study does not give clear on answers on the connection, if any, between non-teaching personnel and student achievement, understanding the skyrocketing growth in non-teaching personnel is vital. Today’s school districts seem to be in a perpetual financial pinch, and they should take a hard look at the costs and benefits of their non-teaching workforce. Could districts improve student outcomes by reducing staff numbers and investing in more effective options? Maybe, maybe not. But for school-board members, superintendents, and treasurers whose job it is to determine what is prioritized and what is not, this remains a question worth asking. Either way, school leaders should investigate alternatives other than simply hiring more non-teaching staff.  

Source:  Richmond, Matthew. The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach. (The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, August 2014).

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