Between 1970 and 2010, the number of employees in the nation’s schools grew by a whopping 84 percent. At the same time, the number of nonteaching staff members expanded by 130 percent to more than 3 million—or about half of public school districts’ overall staff.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education think tank, took a look at the exponential surge in the nonteaching staff category in a report released last week.
It finds that the lion’s share of nonteaching staff members’ growth has been in teacher aides, a group that was practically nonexistent in 1970. That group made up just 1.7 percent of all district staff then, but climbed to represent 11.8 percent of all staff by 2010.
A burgeoning share of nonteaching employees has helped drive overall growth in the staffs of school districts.
Note: Numbers may not add to 100 due to rounding.
The report posits that part of the explanation for the growth in the noninstructional staff lies in legislation dating back to the 1970s that expanded students’ education rights. Since then, a focus on drug prevention, health, and other special services has continued that growth.
Districts’ response to many of these policies has been to hire more teaching and nonteaching staff (including aides to assist in the classroom, but also support staff such as speech pathologists, psychologists, and nurses) to accommodate students’ needs.
The report also notes that the United States spends more on average to compensate teachers and nonteachers when compared with other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
In all but five states, the number of nonteaching staff increased between 1986 and 2010, with the largest increases seen in Vermont, the report notes. There, the ratio went from 49 nonteaching personnel per 1,000 students in 1986 to 104 per 1,000 students in 2010. And rural districts outpaced urban districts in the growth of nonteaching staff.
The report does not opine on whether the growth has been a good or bad development, but it does challenge school districts to re-examine their structures for greater efficiencies. It also urges creativity in considering staffing options and urges districts to evaluate the necessity and cost-benefits of adding more staff to the payroll.
A version of this article appeared in the August 20, 2014 edition of Education Week as Nonteachers Swell Districts’ Payrolls