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Report: After 60 Years, No Achievement Gains Despite Increased Staff

In the last 60 years, America’s K12 public school system has experienced far greater growth in employing administrators and non-teaching staff than employing teachers or students, a new report found. This growth occurred in virtually all 50 states, and did not correspond to increased student achievement.

The report, “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools,” released by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, found that between 1950 and 2009, the number of K12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent, while the number of administrators and non-teaching staff grew by 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students. Teaching staff, in comparison, increased 252 percent.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the report found that if non-teaching staff had grown at the same rate as the student population instead of seven times greater, and the teaching force had grown only 1.5 times as fast, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion annually. This is equivalent to an annual $11,700 raise per teacher nationwide, or a $2,600 school voucher for each child in poverty, the report states.

Large staff increases continued into recent years; however, student achievement did not. The U.S. public high school graduation rate peaked at about 80 percent around 1970, and reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fell slightly (from 288 to 284) or remained stagnant (at 305), respectively, between 1992 and 2008.

“It’s partly the lack of incentive in the public education system to focus on what’s really important,” says Ben Scafidi, an economist at Georgia College & State University and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation, who wrote the report. He adds that, in most fields, it is unacceptable to continue spending money on an endeavor that does not increase performance. “Administrators should treat every dollar they get from taxpayers as sacred, and think carefully about how they spend those dollars in ways most beneficial for students,” he says.

Compared to other nations such as Korea and Finland, U.S. public schools devote significantly higher portions of their budgets to non-teaching personnel, and lower portions to teachers, the report found. To help combat this problem, school boards should look more closely at budget requests, and work to accurately measure student results to ensure effective staffing choices, Scafidi suggests.

To read the report, visit