Teachers unions, the Obama administration, and most Democrats in Congress want to spend another $23 billion that we don’t have to shore up public school employment. If we don’t go along, they tell us, it’ll be a “catastrophe” for American education. With fewer teachers our kids will supposedly learn less, further crippling our already wounded economy.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Over the past forty years, public school employment has risen 10 times faster than enrollment (see chart). There are only 9 percent more students today, but nearly twice as many public school employees. To prove that rolling back this relentless hiring spree by a few years would hurt student achievement, you’d have to show that all those new employees raised achievement in the first place. That would be hard to do… because it never happened.
Student achievement at the end of high school has been flat for as long as we’ve been keeping track—all the way back to 1970. But we did get something in return for all that hiring: a great, big, fat, BILL.
If you graduated from high school in 1980, your entire k-12 education cost your fellow taxpayers about $75,000, in 2009 dollars. But the graduating class of 2009 had roughly twice that amount lavished on their public school careers. The extra $75,000 we’re now spending has done wonders for public school employee union membership, dues revenue, and political clout. It’s done a whole lotta nothin’ for student learning (see chart).
But, some readers may ask: were all those new employees teachers? About two thirds of public school employment growth has been teachers (41 percent) or teachers’ aides (23 percent). The remaining third was comprised almost entirely of support staff in schools and district offices.