- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2013

Each day at school, students in 21 states will see more librarians, bus drivers, coaches, cafeteria workers and office personnel than teachers, according to a new study that examined school hiring patterns over the past 20 years.

The report, released Thursday by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, found that Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, Maine, Indiana and a number of other states — along with the District of Columbia — employ more nonclassroom personnel than teachers, some by a wide margin.

But the study is likely to be greeted with skepticism from those who believe the Friedman Foundation, which loudly promotes school choice and alternatives to traditional schools, is merely trying to paint American public education in an ineffective and inefficient light.

Some of the report’s figures already are being called into question. The study put Virginia at the top of the list, with 60,737 fewer teachers than central office staff and other jobs. The next closest was Ohio, with 19,040 more nonteaching jobs.

Virginia officials believe data reporting errors may be to blame for the staggering disparity.

“There’s a clearly a disconnect here,” said Charles Pyle, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Education. “We don’t think there’s been some sudden change in terms of hiring practices in our school divisions. In fact, in more recent years, there’s been an increased focus on the classroom as opposed to the central office. … Something clearly is amiss here, and our challenge is to get to the bottom of it.”

The Friedman report based its data on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the federal Department of Education that tracks employment and other data for all states and school districts. Errors in those data, Mr. Pyle said, likely are to blame.

While there are some criticisms of the report, it’s raising the important question of how much is too much bureaucracy in American schools.

In Texas, for example, taxpayers would have saved more than $6 billion annually if school hiring of nonclassroom employees hadn’t outpaced students, the study says. Instead, the number of Texas students increased by 37 percent from 1992 to 2009, while the number of nonteaching personnel shot up by 172 percent, nearly five times as fast, according to the report.

In the District, there are 13 students for every teacher, but only 10 students for every nonclassroom employee, the study says.

“What we often see happening is new jobs and programs come about, and people are hired in a central office. Over time, as new programs get added, more people get layered in. It’s too easy to let the status quo continue and just add, add, add,” said Becca Bracy Knight, executive director of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, an education advocacy organization that trains school system leaders.

“At a minimum, [this report] should cause all of us to question whether teachers have the resources they need to educate our children,” or whether those dollars are being wasted elsewhere, she added.

The Friedman Foundation is painting its new report as further proof that student performance in public schools continues to flounder, despite regular increases in funding. 

“Taxpayers should be outraged public schools hired so many nonteaching personnel with such little academic improvement among students to show for it,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation. “This money could have been better invested in areas that have proved to benefit children.”

Mr. Enlow also argued that school choice and controversial private school vouchers are a large part of the solution to problems in American education.

“State leaders could be … offering children in failing schools the option of attending a private school,” he said. “Instead, states have allowed these enormous bureaucracies to grow.”


• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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