During this budgetary crisis, there has been much discussion about what school district employees in Texas actually do. Some people have claimed that we used to have five teachers to every one non-teacher in the 1970s while we now have one teacher to every one non-teacher. Others have claimed that districts are choosing to cut teachers instead of cutting other staff first. There has been precious little evidence produced that substantiate these claims other than proclamations by legislators and organizations generally aligned with more conservative perspectives on education.
This entry examines the first claim that asserts the ratio of teachers to non-teachers has decreased dramatically over time and, by implication, there is a vast bureaucracy of non-teachers that have little impact on student outcomes and are a waste of tax-payer dollars. This claim, however, is related to the second claim. The second claim—that we can cut non-teaching positions and do little harm to student outcomes such as test scores—assumes that those in non-teaching positions do little to impact student outcomes. This was the rationale provided in the recent push to require that 65% of expenditures go towards instruction.
This paper examines the assumptions behind these claims and closely examines employment trends in Texas public schools. Fortunately, TEA collects individual employment and responsibility data for every education professional in Texas public school districts. This data extends back to 1987-88 and goes through 2010-11. I have purchased this data for all 23 years and have analyzed the data starting in 1989-90 through 2010-11.
Claim #1: Employment Trends by Position for 20 Years
The first claim is that the ratio of teachers to non-teachers has declined over time because school districts have hired more non-teachers than teachers over the last 20 years.
Examination of Assumptions
Before directly addressing this claim, it is worth identifying and examining the assumption behind this claim. The assumption behind this claim appears to be that teachers are the most important school variable related to student achievement and, consequently, hiring non-teaching staff is a waste of money since such individuals do not impact student achievement as directly as teachers.
For example, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (2011, p.1) argues that,
“it is clear that Texas is not spending its education dollars wisely or efficiently, in large part because the money is not getting to the students in the classroom.”
Similarly, in their report for the Lone Star Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, Hartman and Lutz (n.d.) claimed “explosive growth of non-teachers, as compared to teachers” was inefficient and non-teaching positions should be reduced. In essence, conservative voices have argued that the increase in non-teaching positions has been monumental and further, have led to greater inefficiencies and a “top-heavy” school system burdened by too many administrators
Yet, authors such as the ones mentioned above, cite no research evidence to support their contentions. A review of the literature suggests the reason for this omission—there is no evidence to support such conclusions. Indeed, a study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and her colleagues (Taylor, Grosskopf, & Hayes, 2007) found no evidence of any prior research that claims of greater efficiency through increased instructional expenditures (primarily teacher salaries) or reduced administrative expenditures (primarily administrative salaries). In fact, after completing their own research study that focused on Texas school district expenditures and student outcomes on TAKS, the authors (Taylor, et al., 2007, p.1).concluded that,
“schools that spend a larger share of their budgets on instruction are significantly less efficient than other public schools”
Further, Taylor and her colleagues (Taylor, et al., 2007, p.19) note that,
“Nearly two-thirds of the charter schools, and more than 87 percent of the traditional public schools are choosing an efficient mix of instructional and non-instructional labor. Somewhat surprisingly, the evidence suggests that among the inefficient schools, charter schools have a strong tendency to overuse administrators (all but one of the allocatively inefficient charter schools overuse administrators) while traditional public schools have no such bias (half of the allocatively inefficient traditional public schools overuse”
And, finally, the summarize by concluding:
“[e]xcluding charter schools, there is no evidence that Texas public schools are systematically mis-allocating their personnel resources away from the classroom.”
Thus, they found that charter schools—not traditional public schools—were top-heavy with administrators.
Thus, the assumptions upon which the claim of top-heavy, inefficient school districts simply do not appear to be true. There is certainly no research evidence to support such a claim.
Examination of Claim #1
Claim rests on data prior to 1989 when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) collected data on educator responsibilities in a manner that is not comparable to how data was collected after the introduction of the Public Education Management System (PEIMS) in 1989. Thus, the comparison of data collected prior to 1989 and after 1989 is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison.
TEA does, however, provide data that is an “apples-to-apples” comparison since 1989. In Figure 1 below, we see that there has been little change in the percentage of teachers employed in Texas public schools since 1991. Indeed, over a 20 year time frame, the percentage of teachers has decreased from 52.7% to 50.4%. If 1989 is used as the staring year, the decrease is even less since the percentage of staff assigned as teachers was 52.1% in 1989.
Figure 1: Percentage of Texas School District Employees by Role (1991 through 2011)
SOURCE: Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS), state results for 1991 through 1994 accessed through the TEA website; AEIS, district staff files downloaded from the TEA website for 1995 through 2010; Standard Reports for staff downloaded from the TEA website.
Professional Support: Counselors, Librarians, Nurses, Licensed Psychologists, Diagnosticians, Campus Content Specialists, Peer Facilitators, Speech Therapists, Physical Therapists
Auxiliary: Clerical, Bus Driver and Mechanics, Food Service Workers, Maintenance, Custodians, Groundskeepers, Technology Services, Police Officers and Crossing Guards
Central Administrators: Superintendent, Associate Superintendents, Directors, Assistant Directors and Program Coordinators
School Administrators: principals and assistant principals
Further, note that the percentage has remained constant over the past decade and that much of the change was during the 1990s.
What happened in the 1990s?
Several major policy changes took place.
First, the testing and accountability system started in 1993.
Second, a more equitable school finance system was also implemented in 1993.
Contrary to some assertions, districts did not respond to these major policy shifts by hiring more school administrators or district administrators. In fact, the data suggests a decrease in the percentage of staff classified as school or district administrators. Districts did, however, increase the percentage of support staff and educational aides. Not surprisingly, the greater the percentage of poor students in a district, the greater number of support staff. Schools serving students in poverty tend to have less experienced teachers, a greater percentage of teachers from preparation programs with fewer hours of preparation, and more students with varied learning and behavioral difficulties. All of these problems require additional staff to improve teacher practice, provide teachers additional support, and provide students the services they need.
In an upcoming post, I will look more closely at these support staff and investigate the actual jobs support staff perform, the location of the individuals (schools or central offices), and the relationship to student outcomes of the job duties (direct or indirect effect on student outcomes).