Thursday, February 10, 2005

Reforming Public Education

Everyone agrees that public school education in America is a poor performer. We hear so much about failing schools and the need for increased funding for K-12 education. However, at the federal and state levels the new budget proposals are “austere” with small increases for public education. {Federal Government austerity means $2.57 Trillion for 2006, while in California austere means the territory somewhere north of $100 Billion. We could buy whole countries with such austerity.} If we really need to give the teachers a raise and buy more computers, where is the money to come from?

California spends $45 Billion educating about 6.2 million students in grades K-12. That works out to about $7500 per student or $180 Thousand for each class of 25 kids. Since the average teacher makes about $80 Thousand (salary and benefits), it seems there should be plenty of money for teacher’s aides, nurses, janitors, books and supplies. But, for some mysterious reason, much of the money does not make it to the classroom. What, exactly, is wrong?

A report by Dr. Brian Janiskee of the Claremont Institute clarifies the problem and offers a good solution. You see, of the 577 thousand employees of the California K-12 system, 270 thousand are not teachers. For each of the roughly 9000 schools, it breaks down to about 34 teachers plus 30 staff and administrators, on average. Do we really need all the bureaucracy (the “not teachers”)? Won’t teachers be burdened with administrative work if staff were reduced?

The numbers tell a different story. In a landmark report, John Chubb and Terry Moe found that “much of the failure of our public schools lies in the stifling hierarchy of school administration.” Another report by John Bohte revealed that every 1% increase of district administration resulted in a 1% decrease of standardized test scores and a 10% decrease in SAT scores. Just imagine the benefit of a 10% decrease in administration.

The problem with bureaucracy is that it is so meddlesome, producing curriculum churn and make-work for teachers. What’s more, bureaucracy tends to grow geometrically, just like government, destroying productivity. Over the last few decades, industry learned that flattened organizations improve productivity and America’s economy has boomed as a result. Meanwhile, public schools have resisted such reforms.

I prefer the most aggressive Claremont proposal that saves $1.2 Billion/year through the combination of a 30% cut in bureaucracy (instructional coordinators, school staff, district administration and staff) with pay raises of 10.7% for all of the teachers, instructional aides, counselors, nurses, librarians, even principals, plus a 92% increase in spending on books and supplies.

I wonder if the students would even miss the missing bureaucrats, and I’m willing to bet that the teachers will be more effective and happy with less oversight.


Blogger Ralph said...

Thanks for posting that summary of the Claremont Report. I would love to axe all those administrators but don't we first have to axe the state education bureaucracy that mandates them all?

10:09 AM  
Blogger Ralph said...

One other question. Do these administrator belong to the dreaded teachers union?

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Doc said...

Hi Bill,

I sent educational reform thoughts to several friends I thought would be interested. Here are a couple of responses I got back:

From Tim, very conservative retired stockbroker:

This is so true. Private schools do not have the luxury of bureaucrats. Virtually everyone in administration
also has classroom duties (or perhaps some of the teachers have administrative duties). Of course
Jimmy Carter's fine HEW adds just a bit more excuse for bloat.

From Sally, a retired teacher:

I can't think of any solutions to the education problem until teachers are more respected and valued. When I started teaching in Los Angeles in 1956 the administrators were blamed for the high cost of everything educational and the book de jour was "Why Johnny Can't Read." I made $4,400 a year.

9:02 AM  

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