Study: School administrative bloat increased 700 percent since 1950

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Robby Soave Reporter
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American schools suffer from constantly growing administrative bloat and an institutional culture that prioritizes research over teaching, two new studies have found.

In the last 20 years, the number of K-12 administrators has increased 2.3 times faster than the number of students in school, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Teacher employment also outpaced student growth, though not as rapidly as the administrator count did.

Over a longer period of time, the trend is even more pronounced. Administrative positions at K-12 schools increased by 700 percent since 1950 — seven times faster than the growth of student enrollment.

“The increases in public school employment since 1992 do not appear to have had any positive returns to students as measured by test scores and graduation rates,” wrote Benjamin Scafidi, a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation and associate professor at Georgia College & State University.

Evidence that such an employment surge positively impacted student achievement is scant, said Scafidi.

“The burden of proof is now on those who still want to maintain or even increase the dramatically larger staffing levels in public schools,” he wrote.

Similar problems afflict higher education, studies have shown.

“America’s universities have been taken over by a burgeoning class of administrators and staffers determined to transform colleges into top-heavy organizations run by inept bureaucrats,” wrote Benjamin Ginsberg, professor of political science at John Hopkins University and author of the book “The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters.”

But administrative bloat isn’t the only thing driving up college tuition. The average workload for university professors has declined, leading to higher costs per student, argued a recent study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Education Sector.

The study found a 25 percent decline in the number of classes each professor taught between 1988 and 2004. Dr. Andrew Gillen, the study’s author, estimated that more than 80 percent of tuition increases at public research universities could have been prevented if universities simply maintained the same course load for instructors.

“If education loads had not declined, and universities used that savings to offset tuition increases, they could have not done 54 percent of the tuition increases,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

For people who work in higher education, the incentives push them to prioritize research over instruction, he said.

“A lot of what’s driving this is the prioritization of research,” he said.

Some professors are more valuable as researchers and should spend time outside of the classroom, he said. But others have taken up research for a host of reasons that make bad policy. Research tends to be viewed more favorably — and make professors more money — than instruction, according to the study.

“It is not just the case that good research is rewarded while good teaching is ignored — at some institutions, the rather shocking reality is that teaching is actively punished,” wrote Gillen.

Together, the studies paint an unfortunate picture of why costs to students — be they in kindergarten or college — continue to rise regardless of the quality of the education they receive. In ever-increasing proportion, every dime goes to administrators and researchers, instead of teachers.

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