Friday, February 11, 2011

Clearing up the misconceptions about 1:1

At a time when the Legislature is looking to gut education funding, it seems a lot of interesting, previously obscure, statistics pop up and get repeated. 

One of those is the 1:1 ratio of teachers to non-teaching staff in Texas and, according to one study, that the ratio has shifted from 5:1 in the 1970s. Lawmakers often point to it in breathless tones of disbelief, as if stating the statistic alone justifies cuts in education.

But, as with any statistic, context is needed.

Recent research by Moak, Casey and Associates highlights the misperceptions around those statistics. Here’s the rest of the story: Texas didn’t count all staff in the 1970s. The largest portion of non-teaching staff – auxiliary personnel – were not counted until the PEIMS data system was established in the ‘80s, so the two numbers are not an apples-to-apples comparison.

 Moak, Casey found that a look at comparable data shows the percentage of teachers to non-teachers has actually not changed substantially since the late 1980s. The percentage of staff that are teachers has declined slightly, from 52 percent to 50 percent since the 1989-90 school year, but the ratio has remained essentially the same for more than 20 years.

And here’s another thing that bothers me about that argument: The implication that those employees in the “non-teaching” categories don’t contribute to what goes on in the classroom. Of course, we all realize the importance of the classroom teacher and what a critical factor that person is in a child’s education. But there is support that is necessary for that teacher to do his or her job.

In using the 1:1 ratio, some have been referring to all those “non-teaching” positions as “administrators". This brings to mind images of tie-wearing bureaucrats at central office. (Bureaucrats, by the way, who have the responsibility of hiring the best teachers, developing curriculum, cutting paychecks, managing multi-million dollar budgets, keeping track of mountains of regulatory paperwork required by the state and federal governments, etc.)

Those central office folks have important jobs that require specialized skill sets. But if there was a 1:1 ratio of central administration staff to teachers, I think we could all agree that would be ridiculous. In truth, central administrators make up only 1 percent of school employees. That doesn’t sound outrageous to me, nor does it jive with that 1:1 ratio.

You could lump campus administrators in with that number, but they only make up another 3 percent of public school district employees.

So who are the rest? 

They are professional support (9 percent), educational aides (10 percent) and auxiliary staff (27 percent).

And what do they do? 

Professional support is a broad category of positions, from people who write curriculum and provide teachers with professional development to computer technicians who run the district’s network. They are also auditors, accountants, risk management experts, special education coordinators and dieticians. 

Educational aides help teachers in classrooms, often with special needs children, providing one-on-one attention to kids who need it most. Auxiliary staff includes bus drivers who get children to and from school safely, cafeteria workers who feed them breakfast and lunch, custodians who keep their schools clean and safe, and school secretaries who staff the front office, register kids for school and help parents on a daily basis.

In the current budget outlook, it’s inevitable that some of these crucial positions will be eliminated. But to assume that eliminating them won’t affect the classroom is ludicrous. To use a military term, these are “mission essential” people. Cutting these positions will affect children. Their school day will be different. The atmosphere will change. More will be required of teachers, which will mean less time for what they should be focusing on: instruction. 

To imply otherwise is at best naïve.

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