30 years later, has that happened?
The famous Rose v. Council for Better Education Kentucky Supreme Court decision from 1989 is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, reminding us that the Kentucky State Constitution stipulates in Section 183 that:
“The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State.”
Now, 30 years later, a discussion is under way about the real impact of Rose and the resulting legislation, the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, commonly called KERA. At issue:
- What worked?
- How much success has really been achieved?
- Is the state getting a more efficient school system that works for our kids?
Looking for information on that efficiency question, we came across some interesting statistics about the shift in the proportion of teachers compared to other school staff in Kentucky. This information makes it look like in the area of effective school staffing, the constitutional requirement not only is far from being met, but the state actually seems to be going in the opposite direction.
To see our evidence, just click the “Read more” link.
Exhibit 1 in our efficiency brief is shown below. This graph shows the ratio over the years of Kentucky teachers to the total of all staff members in the public school system. This slide has been assembled from many years of data found in various editions of the Digest of Education Statistics from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (Table with full source data is at the end of the blog).
Regarding Exhibit 1, it shows that back in 1984, teachers made up 51.6% of all the staff positions in Kentucky’s public school system. Also noted on the table is the starting year for the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and a note about one outlier data point that is probably in error.
As you can see in Exhibit 1, the proportion of teachers to the total of all staff in Kentucky’s public schools started declining just before the Rose case came out in 1989. The teacher-to-total-staff ratio has continued to lower since. As of the latest available data from 2015, the teacher-to-total-staff ratio has dropped notably, by 8.7 percentage points from the pre-Rose era. As of 2015 Kentucky’s teachers comprised far less than half of the total staff at a figure of just 42.9%.
Because teachers are where the action happens with students, this trend clearly seems troubling. Did the addition of larger proportions of other staff types improve schools? Where did the big staff increases come from to offset the decline in teacher staffing?
We get some answers to that question when we compare data on staffing from 1990 to 2015 found in several different editions of the US Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. Check out Exhibit 2 (you can click on this to enlarge if necessary).
Information on the total public school staffing in Kentucky’s public schools back in 1990 was reported by the Digest of Education Statistics 1992 in its Table 79. The total 1990 public school education staffing in Kentucky was 74,224. Teachers accounted for 36,777 of that total, making the teacher to total staffing proportion 49.5 percent.
Flash forward to the most recently available data, and the Digest of Education Statistics 2017 shows in Table 213.20 that by 2015 the total staffing in Kentucky’s schools had grown to 97,712 individuals. Teachers numbered 41,902 in 2015, but that represented just 42.9 percent of all the employees in the Kentucky public school system.
So, teachers – the “pointy” edge of the sword in education – lost 6.7 percentage points in relative staffing between 1990 and 2015. Clearly, the “tooth to tail” ratio of teachers to other staff got worse. The total education payroll grew – a lot – but the teachers are now a notably smaller part of the whole pie.
So, where did the biggest increase in non-teacher staffing occur? The answer is for the “Instructional Aides” category, which grew by 4.3 percentage points.
And, this is where an efficiency issue comes in.
A study about “Teacher Aides and Students’ Academic Achievement” from Susan B. Gerber, Jeremy D. Finn and Charles M. Achilles found:
“…teacher aides have little, if any, positive effect on students’ academic achievement. The only positive effect was an improvement in reading scores for students who attended a class with a teacher aide for 2 or 3 years. These results were the only exceptions to a plethora of negative findings. The study also showed that the types of duties aides performed had no bearing on student achievement.”
These findings were later pointed to by Dr. Lawrence Picus in his studies on education finance in Kentucky. Picus clearly found the results from Gerber, Finn and Achilles compelling. For example, in his report, “ADEQUACY FOR EXCELLENCE IN KENTUCKY: REPORT 1 (OF 2),” Picus provides a proposal on Page 51 in his report for an “Evidence Based” school funding model. In his model Picus zeros out all staffing of Instructional Aides as a way to employ school funds more efficiently. In other words, Picus’s model suggests that Kentucky should drop the use of aides.
This information provides an interesting background for some “what-if” scenarios regarding staffing with instructional aides in Kentucky. Consider these scenarios:
(1) Eliminate all aides
This would reduce the salary load by 12,857 positions.
(2) Bring the proportion of aide manning back to the 1990 level
This less drastic action would return aide manning just 8.8% of total staffing. That would reduce the salary load for aides from 12,857 positions to 8,599 positions, a reduction of 4,258 positions.
How much would these scenarios save?
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides salary information for Kentucky’s “Teachers Assistants,” a term that is generally synonymous with “Teachers Aides” according to staff at the Kentucky Department of Education.
Hovering a cursor over the state of Kentucky in an interactive map from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for teachers’ assistants’ salaries probably provides a fair estimate of the teacher aide salaries, as well. The BLS says aides in Kentucky earned on average $26,590 per year as of 2016. The BLS’s statistics also show 16,150 people were employed as aides in 2016, which is somewhat higher than the 12,857 figure for 2015 reported by the Digest of Education Statistics.
Based on the BLS salary data from 2016, here are some potential cost savings from the two scenarios:
Cost savings for scenario (1), Eliminate all aides, would be $341.9 million per year.
Cost savings for scenario (2), Bring aide manning back to the 1990 level, would be $113.2 million.
Now, current data from the Kentucky Department of Education shows the state has about 42,000 teachers and their average salary is $52,328 per year.
Even if we only used scenario (2), we could increase average teacher pay in Kentucky by $2,695 per year, about a 5% across the board pay increase.
If we did scenario (1), our teachers could each get $6,575 more.
Either approach would probably provide a more efficient use of those dollars, especially if we tied a part of the teacher salary increase to measures showing which teachers were more effective for students.
And, ultimately, being more effective for students is what Rose was supposed to be all about.
Tech Note: The table below lists the data sources for the data in Exhibit 1.