There are two new sets of data out regarding employment in our nation's public schools. One set of data tells us that between 1970 and 2010 the number of employees in our public schools grew by 84%. Another set of data tells us that non-teaching employees grew by 130%. These data were included in a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. It is entitled "The Hidden Half: School Employees That Don't Teach". The increase is not particularly due to administrative staff. When you look more closely, the increases come from teacher aides, speech therapists, psychologists, and nurses to accommodate students' special services needs. The report hints that these additions have been brought on by the legislation in the 1970's that expanded students' rights. It does not take a great detective to pinpoint The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) that was signed into law by President Ford in 1975.
While the report does not make a formal recommendation as to whether these staff increases are good or bad, it does strongly support creativity in options for districts to evaluate the cost-benefits of adding these new staff.
Clearly when evaluating "cost-benefits" the Foundation is only looking at dollars. Prior to the EHA, children with disabilities were routinely totally excluded from public education or received an education that was not much better than training for sheltered workshops. The "cost" to these individuals and their families, as well as to the communities in which they live, has never been calculated. The push of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the successor to EHA, has required that as much as appropriate children with disabilities be educated with their non-diabled peers. In order to pull this off, a large number of aides have been hired to facilitate the inclusion of children with disabilities in the general ed classes. Whether this is a good thing of not depends on the characteristics of the child, not on the economics of the situation.
It is also strange that the report has determined that speech therapists and teacher aides do not teach. Clearly the authors are very unfamiliar with the work of these people. Speech therapists do very much more than articulation and teacher assistants are often the people who serve as the bridge between what the teacher thinks she is teaching and what the children really learn.
EHA told us that when schools decide to serve children, those schools must therefore, serve all the children. That is clearly a good thing. Can we do that in a cost effective manner. Sure. But let's make sure that when measuring costs we include human costs not just dollar costs. Education is a human business.