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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

August 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Support staff growth modest here, while nationally it explodes

National growth in education staffing and enrollment, 1970–2010 Credit: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

While public school enrollment in Washington has surged by more than 23 percent since 1990, the state still employs roughly the same number of school support staff as it did a generation ago, making us either admirably lean or in dire need of more classroom aides – depending on your perspective.

The information comes via a national report released by education reformers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute which finds that, nationally, school staffing has exploded since 1950, climbing by more than 400 percent.

Since 1970, the biggest driver of this growth has been teacher aides, who went from being virtually non-existent in classrooms during the 1970s to the largest category of employees other than teachers. Much of the increase is likely due to federal laws mandating equal education for handicapped kids and bilingual students, which resulted in many more paraprofesisonals working with children.

“The sheer size of the non-teaching workforce in American K–12 schooling devours a substantial chunk of education budgets—and it continues to grow,” said the report’s author, Matthew Richmond, who noted that schools are “adding more hands but not necessarily more value.”

That interpretation was blasted by the teachers union. Said Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer for the American Federation of Teachers:

I got my start as a teacher’s aide in Baltimore’s public schools, and I’ve seen how value is not always in the bottom line of a school district budget. For the child who learned to read because a paraprofessional sat down, one-on-one, and taught her, letter by letter, that paraprofessional is far more than a salary. That paraprofessional is invaluable.

But Washington hasn’t had nearly as much growth as other states. In 1990, when there were fewer than 850,000 children in our public schools, the state employed 38 non-teachers – including administrators, librarians and counselors – for every 1,000 students. Twenty-four years later, Washington educates more than 1 million kids but has increased its ranks of non-teachers by just 10, to 48 staffers for every 1,000 pupils — a rate that puts us seventh from the bottom, on par with Utah and Idaho. The national average is 67.

Those numbers may interest state legislators as they grapple with a looming deadline on the McCleary ruling, which mandates that Washington devote billions more to its public schools.

Nationally, among 6.2 million school employees, only half are teachers.

Comments | Topics: Fordham Institute, school spending, teacher aides

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