Thursday, August 21, 2014

Study: Half of All School Employees Not Teachers, 130% Increase Since 1970

 The ranks of non-teachers - such as administrators, counselors, teacher aides and cafeteria workers - has swelled 130 percent since 1970 and they now make up 50 percent of all public school employees according to a new study, The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach.

Looking at data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that the growth of non-teaching staff has greatly outpaced student growth over the past four decades.

From 1970 to 2010, the number of students grew by 8.6 percent, while the number of non-teaching personnel increased by 130 percent.  Non-teachers now consume over a quarter of all education expenditures, the study found.

In addition, America now spends a greater percentage of its education funding on non-teachers than any other country in the world besides Denmark.

A previous study from the Friedman Foundation, The School Staffing Surge, found that “states could have saved more than $24 billion annually if they had increased/decreased the employment of administrators and other non-teaching staff at the same rate as students between 1992 and 2009.”

However, test scores and graduation rates show little evidence of improvement despite the explosive growth of non-teaching positions.

“As I showed in my study,” Ben Scafidi, author of The School Staffing Surge, told, “student achievement in public schools did not rise between 1970 and 2008--even though staffing skyrocketed.”

With the exception of these two reports, the sharp increase in non-teaching public school employees has received little media attention or public scrutiny. That may be due in part to the difficulty in getting recent data on the trend.

“The national statistics obtainable from the U.S. Department of Education, for instance, are rich with information about school teachers and principals,” the Fordham study pointed out, “but crude and unhelpful when it comes to non-teaching personnel.”

“At a time when budgets are tight and achievement weak, it’s unthinkable not to consider what personnel shifts might strengthen both performance and efficiency,” The Hidden Half maintains.

Some states have a much higher ratio of non-teaching employees per student than others. For example, Virginia, Vermont, and Wyoming have 104 non-teachers per every 1,000 students, while Nevada and South Carolina make do with 26 to 28 non-teachers for every 1,000 students.

Even within states, there are major differences in the number of non-teachers per school district, according to the Fordham Institute study. For example, rural areas tend to have higher numbers of non-teachers than urban areas, often because sparsely populated districts cannot share specialists or other personnel like a city district could.

The largest increase in non-teacher positions was for teacher aides, employees who work in the classroom to give students individual attention, often children with special needs.

The passage of laws like the Disabilities Education Act and the Bilingual Education Act in the 1970’s significantly contributed to the a higher need for teachers aides. The Fordham study found that a higher number of teacher aides generally corresponds with a greater presence of children with individualized education plans  (IEPs).

But special needs kids are not the only reason for the increased personnel. The study notes that “during roughly the same period, schools were further burdened with obligations to provide special programs and services for youngsters with drug issues, health challenges, sex-and-sometimes-pregnancy activity, homelessness, and a host of discipline and family challenges.”

But the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a large union representing a variety of school employees, disagreed with the Fordham study.

After contacted AFT, the union issued a press release saying that “school support staff are an essential part of our public schools. To imply that we should thin their ranks is a direct threat to the public school students who rely on them.”


Is the bell tolling for Common Core?

School bells across America are ringing again with trusting parents putting their precious cargo on yellow buses for another year of learning.

In local school board meetings and state capitols around the nation however, a debate is occurring that would shock most parents.  It is a fundamental debate over what information students should be taught and how it should be presented to them.

The normally staid argument about curriculum has become a national battlefield as the nearly universally accepted idea that there should be some amorphous national standards to ensure every child across the nation has the information they need to succeed has met the reality that national dictates rarely equate to local support.

Not since conservatives virtually deserted the battlefield over textbook content and curricula in the 1970s leading to the gradual acceptance of the legitimacy of a federal Department of Education, has the public revolted against education policy so completely.  The unifying factor is the Obama Administration’s Common Core program that was sold to states as a means to receive federal education dollars, and has become so controversial that states are moving forward with plans to reject it and the promised federal dollars.

The state of Oklahoma has already told Obama thanks but no thanks, and Governor Bobby Jindal, a leading education reformer, is leading the fight to uproot the use of Common Core in his state’s schools.

The fight in Louisiana is instructive as it has devolved into a donnybrook pitting Jindal’s common core supporting Superintendent of Education against the Governor in a legal battle that is being watched nationwide.

Jindal, who was initially supportive of national standards conceptually, became an ardent opponent of the standards and curricula being imposed on his state’s schools once the idea became reality.  Jindal explained his opposition to common core saying, “We’re very alarmed about choice and local control of curriculum being taken away from our parents and educators. It is never too late to make the right decision.”

Jindal’s concerns echo those of parents and teachers across the nation who have examined the new Obama education standards and found them wanting.

Politico reports Richard Iannuzzi, the president of the New York State United Teachers as saying about common core, “We’ll have to be the first to say it’s failed.”

The teacher’s union president elaborated claiming in the January 2014 interview, “We’ve been in conversations where we’re all saying our members don’t see this going down a path that improves teaching and learning. We’re struggling with how to deal with it.”

Nationally, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are actively arguing against the Obama Administration’s aggressive effort to promote and develop national testing standards with AFT president Randi Weingarten asserting, “The federal government has a lot of blame here.” Weingarten complains, “This fixation on testing is just wrong.”

Eagle Forum Executive Director Glyn Wright sums up the situation succinctly saying, “Common Core has failed as millions of Americans have realized that too much authority has been ceded to the federal government at the expense of their child’s education. The Common Core substantively incorporated all of the bad education initiatives from the past several decades, and people know it. The states are slowly returning to traditional education, and as the school year begins, we will see more and more states reject this big government, top-down approach to education.”

And it is the engagement of parents across the nation which is winning the debate about what their children should be learning in public schools.  This long overdue education revolution has the politicians listening, and if the people can retake our nation’s education system from the left, perhaps there is hope after all that the rest of the government will follow.


Australia: Student test anxiety relieved by new research

While NAPLAN marks slip across the country, new research suggests letting kids look at exams before they begin can help reduce anxiety and improve performance.

Child development researcher and PhD student Myrto Mavilidi, from the Early Start Research Institute at the University of Wollongong (UOW), said that test anxiety is a major threat to student performance that can lead them to ‘choking under pressure’.

“The stress related to pressure-filled exam situations has physiological effects, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, emotional effects, such as worries about the situation and its consequences, and cognitive effects, such as working memory load,” Ms Mavilidi said.

“Our research has found that even letting students skim their exams for one minute before they begin can help to reduce anxiety.”

Researchers from UOW and Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands tested the math skills of 117 sixth grade students across primary schools in Athens and found that both low-anxiety and high-anxiety students were less stressed and achieved better results if they were allowed to scan the test beforehand.

The study, recently published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, also found that students with higher anxiety levels needed significantly more response time and greater effort because their working memories were consumed by negative thoughts, and so performed worse on their exams.


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