C. Moore of Berkeley, CA asks:
What percentage of an overall education budget goes to "administration?"
What's the average and what do you think it should be? Is there
a correlation between a lower value and better school/district/state
performance? In your opinion, is too much money "being squandered
on bureaucrats," or is this issue a distraction?
TA relatively small fraction of education budget -- typically
less than 10 percent -- goes to "administration." The
relative amounts devoted to administration is smaller than many
types of organizations. The administrator personnel category could
include central office administrators as well as school principals.
Some analysts, however, especially those critical of public education,
lump everyone who is not a classroom teacher into "administration."
These other personnel might include psychologists working with
disturbed children, directors of special programs, specialist
teachers (e.g., special education teachers, math specialists,
etc.), personnel involved in curriculum development and security
personnel. This latter group -- non-administrator/non-classroom
teacher -- is the category which has grown most significantly
as a fraction of the education workforce in the last few decades.
Analysts have real concerns about the value that these additional
personnel bring to the academic program of a school district.
It is difficult, however, to get a good estimate of their value
since we really want to know what these personnel actually do,
not just their job titles which are often too generally labeled
in available data sets.
In general, there is a negative correlation between the fraction
of the workforce in the school district in non-classroom jobs
and academic performance. The finding, however, does not necessarily
mean that these personnel have a negative effect on academic performance
because school districts serving disadvantaged communities often
have greater need, for example, of social workers and security
personnel and these districts also tend to be the lower achieving
districts. Without these personnel, the situation may be even
A case could also be made that rather than too much investment
in administration in education, the investment is too little.
That is, rather than being over-managed, education is under-managed.
Greater oversight and supervision of teachers and the teaching
practice might lead to greater education productivity and, thus,
be well worth the cost. In general, we have only limited information
about the most appropriate structure and deployment of personnel
in education are still open.
This is a difficult number to pin down. The information is often
disguised and it ranges greatly from place to place. How do you
define "administration"? Is that where you would put the school
librarian? The social worker? The bus driver and cafeteria worker?
I've seen figures ranging from 15 percent to 55 percent.
It's worth noting, though, that OECD data indicate that U.S.
public education employs a higher fraction of non-teachers than
does any other advanced industrial country. That suggests to me
that we have more overhead in the system than we need.
It is also pretty clear that too little of our education dollar
reaches the classroom. Federal programs especially, with their
little pots of money and enormous regulatory and reporting burdens,
force state and local systems to hire lots of people to fill out
an avalanche of paperwork. A better federal approach would be
to provide states or districts with "block grants" of money which
could be used for wide purposes. We should then hold states and
districts accountable for spending this money wisely by looking
at their results--how much their students are learning--instead
of by filling out silly reports.