Majority of Education Workforce Found To Be Non-Teachers

By Debra Viadero — December 08, 1993 4 min read


The United States may spend more on education than most other industrialized nations, but more than half of the education labor force in this country is not teaching in classrooms, according to a new international report.

The report, scheduled to be released here and in Paris this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, notes that the United States has the highest proportion of non-teaching staff members of the 19 industrialized nations studied.

“Regardless of how you measure it, the United States is a high spender in education,’' said Albert Tuijnman, one of three primary authors of the study. “But here is some evidence telling us the U.S. is spending more on nonteachers than teachers.’'

“The question then becomes, ‘Is the U.S. spending its money efficiently?’'' Mr. Tuijnman said.

The report, entitled “Education at a Glance,’' is the second such study compiled by the O.E.C.D. and is based on 1991 data. The first study was released last year. (See Education Week, Sept. 30, 1992.)

Comparisons for States

The new O.E.C.D. report is to be released on the heels of a separate Education Department study that allows states in this country to see for the first time how their students and education systems stack up against those of other nations. The department’s study uses 1988 data from the first O.E.C.D. report.

The department found, for example, that even though Alabama and Tennessee had the lowest proportion of students completing high school, those proportions were higher than those found in 16 of the 20 countries in the study.

“On most of the measures states rank at the highest and the lowest,’' Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said in a statement.

“The results of the high performers,’' he said, “indicate that if inequities in conditions, resources, and services that exist in our country can be overcome, our nation as a whole can achieve at the highest levels among nations in the world.’'

For example, 13-year-olds in Iowa and North Dakota scored nearly as high on a standardized measure of mathematics achievement as those in Taiwan, the highest-performing nation. Mississippi’s 13-year-olds, in contrast, placed at the bottom of the international comparisons.

Comparing Workforces

The new O.E.C.D. report, meanwhile, shows some striking differences in the education sectors of industrialized countries’ workforces.

It notes that 5.6 percent of the total American labor force works in education, yet teachers make up only 2.6 percent of all U.S. workers. The other workers in education-related jobs--nearly 3 percent of the total U.S. workforce--are administrators, bus drivers, counselors, janitors, and others not directly involved in teaching.

In Japan and the Netherlands, by comparison, non-teaching education employees make up less than 1 percent of the total national labor force.

Mr. Tuijnman said the differences are in part due to cultural and geographical factors. The Netherlands and Japan, for example, are densely populated nations where most students walk to school and school-bus drivers are not needed.

“There is also a different perception of the role of schooling in society,’' Mr. Tuijnman added. The United States, for example, provides more social services through its schools than many other nations do.

‘Less Results for the Bucks’

Still, Mr. Tuijnman said, “the U.S. gets less results for the bucks than Japan.’'

Among industrialized nations, only Switzerland spends more public funds per student on education than the United States does. But the United States ranks fifth in the industrialized world in education spending per student relative to per-capita national income. By that measure, Sweden, Canada, Finland, and Denmark spend more.

However, the separate Education Department study shows that 48 states outspent the nation’s two biggest economic competitors, Germany and Japan, relative to national wealth.

Some other findings, taken separately from each study, include:

  • Sixteen of the nations studied have higher proportions than the United States of students who say they speak a language at home other than the one they are taught in school. Other languages might also include dialects, Mr. Tuijnman noted.
  • Only Canada and Norway have a higher proportion of university graduates than the United States does. And 27 states have more university graduates per 100 persons than Japan.
  • On a standardized measure of mathematics achievement, the differences within states and countries are much greater than the differences between the average performances of the highestscoring countries and the bottom-scoring states.

“In other words,’' said Thomas Smith, a co-author of the Education Department study, “there are students in Taiwan who score extremely high and students who score at the bottom.’'

The Education Department report, “Education in the States and Nations: Indicators Comparing U.S. States With the O.E.C.D. Countries in 1988,’' is available for $9 from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15250-7954. The stock number is 065-000-00621-9.

The 1993 edition of the O.E.C.D.'s “Education at a Glance’’ is available for $30 from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2001 L St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

A version of this article appeared in the December 08, 1993 edition of Education Week as Majority of Education Workforce Found To Be Non-Teachers