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School Staffing by the Numbers

How many people work in schools and how much do they get paid?
By Maya Riser-Kositsky — June 15, 2022 | Corrected: July 08, 2022 5 min read
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Corrected: An earlier version of this article did not state that the number of job openings in the Bureau of Labor Statistics data isn’t exclusive to the public K-12 sector and includes openings in public postsecondary institutions.

In many communities in the United States, the local school district is the largest employer. While teachers and principals have the most visible jobs in schools, many instructional, administrative, and support roles are necessary for schools to function.

So, how many people work in schools, what types of work do they do, and how much do they get paid? Education Week breaks it down for you.

How many people work in schools?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in May 2021 elementary and secondary schools employed over 8 million people. That’s more than twice as many workers as are employed in colleges, universities, and professional schools and over 400,000 more workers than are employed in all retail sales jobs in the U.S. or in the construction industry. It’s also more than three times the number of employees in the real estate and rental and leasing industry. Elementary and secondary schools employ about two-thirds as many workers as the U.S. manufacturing industry, however.

What types of work do people employed in schools do?

Of those 8 million, 66 percent work in educational instruction and library roles, including 3.6 million teachers and over 1 million teaching assistants. About 350,000 people (or about 4 percent of the school workforce) work in the management of schools, almost 500,000 (or 6 percent) work in administrative support, 330,000 (4 percent) work in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, and 315,000 (almost 4 percent) work in food preparation and service. Other occupations in schools, including transportation, health care, and financial operations jobs, employ 1.2 million people, or over 15 percent of everyone working in schools.

How many teachers are there?

There are 3.6 million teachers working in preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools, and with special education students,according to May 2021 estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were almost 3 percent fewer teachers across all pre-K-12 grades in May 2021 than there were in May 2016, but salaries for teachers increased over 13 in that period. In May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that teachers make an annual mean wage of $67,680.

For a more detailed look at the profile of America’s teaching force, including demographics, average age, and years of experience, read this article on the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

How about teaching assistants?

Teaching assistants—often called paraprofessionals or paraeducators—also make up a large part of the school workforce—there are just over 1 million of them employed in the nation’s K-12 schools. They are paid significantly less than teachers, however, pulling in $32,170 on average annually.

The number of people employed as teaching assistants decreased slightly over the last five years. Wages for those jobs increased 17 percent.

According to an EdWeek Research Center survey of paraprofessionals conducted in May, 70 percent said they are likely to leave their job and the K-12 field in the next year said pay was a major reason.

How many people work in food preparation in schools?

Every school is full of children who need to eat lunch (and sometimes breakfast and snacks) in order to be able to learn effectively. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there were almost 150,000 cooks and food preparation workers. Those workers are some of the lowest-paid school employees, making, on average, just over $29,000 annually (an hourly wage of $14.07).

Despite the low pay, wages have gotten better. Cooks and food preparation workers have seen a large increase in wages, 17 percent in the last five years, on average. In that time, however, the number of those workers employed in schools has shrunk almost 8 percent.

How many bus drivers are there?

There were 190,000 bus drivers in the United States in May 2021, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. Bus drivers are not pulling in big bucks, making on average just over $36,000 annually ($17.36 per hour).

Which jobs in schools are the best paid? Which pay the least?

K-12 administrators are generally the best paid school workers, earning an annual mean salary of $102,760, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.

Teachers’ mean annual pay clocks in at $67,680. On the lower side of salaries, teaching assistants are estimated to earn $32,170 annually.

Cooks and food preparation workers, food and beverage serving workers, and school bus monitors all make less than $30,000 annually, on average.

Many school employees work part-time hours. For those jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated their average annual pay by multiplying their average hourly wage by 2,080 hours, making their annual pay the amount they would get if they were full-time, year-round employees.

How have school staffing and salaries changed over time?

The number of people working in schools has decreased about 4 percent in recent years, from over 8.4 million employees in May 2016 to just over 8 million in May 2021. The K-12 education sector has shrunk while the overall U.S. workforce overall has grown about 3.5 percent since May 2016.

Salaries for school workers overall have increased over 15 percent in that time. That’s compared with a 17 percent increase in annual mean wages for all workers.

How many job openings are there in schools and universities?

While teacher shortages have been reported in different regions and different teaching subjects on and off for years, a very large number of open positions in education jobs overall have been reported in recent months. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the state and local government education sector (which includes public elementary and secondary school systems and postsecondary institutions), in February 2022 there were 380,000 open jobs in schools and universities, the highest number of openings in the past decade.

Since April 2021, only two months (August and September 2021) had fewer than 300,000 open jobs. That’s compared with the period from 2012 to the end of 2019, when no month had over 300,000 open jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies something as a job opening when it meets three conditions:

  1. A specific position exists and there is work available for that position.
  2. The job could start within 30 days.
  3. There is active recruiting for workers.

The bureau counts job openings on the last business day of the month, rather than cumulatively throughout the month.

For more data about schools, see Education Week’s Education Statistics page.

Have more school staffing statistics you’d like to see on this page?

Email library@educationweek.org with your suggestions or feedback.

How to Cite This Article

Riser-Kositsky, M. (2021, June 15). School Staffing by the Numbers. Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-staffing-by-the-numbers/2022/06

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