With election season in full swing, one of the most widely used political attacks is for candidates to accuse their opponents of wanting or having already committed “cuts to education” resulting in “teacher layoffs.”
For example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s “Remember This” TV ad accuses incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of cutting school funding by $500 million and causing “teacher layoffs and crowded classrooms.” The Illinois Federation of Teachers, which has unanimously endorsed Quinn, says Rauner is the one who wants to “cut billions out of public education resulting in teacher layoffs [and] larger class sizes.”
Such talking points suggest education spending can only be cut at the expense of teachers, but research from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows cuts can be made without teacher layoffs. From 1992 to 2009, the number of administrative staff in Illinois public schools grew by 36 percent, while the number of students rose by only 14 percent. Had administrative staff growth been restricted to the same rate as students’ growth, Illinois could not only keep all its teachers but it could give every single one a $5,606 annual salary increase.
Administrative bloat is hardly an Illinois-specific phenomenon. Between 1992 and 2008, non-teaching staff in the United States grew 2.7 times faster than the number of students, yet public schools’ reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam fell slightly and mathematics scores remained flat, according to Ben Scafidi, professor of economics at Georgia College & State University.
Today, the United States spends more of its operating budget on non-teaching personnel than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), except Denmark. For all that money, the U.S. scores near the average among OECD nations in reading and science and below average in mathematics, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
When one Chinese education official was asked how Shanghai students achieved the world’s top ranking, she told CNN they take special measures to recruit high-quality teachers. This included high salaries, but it also included higher standards. Countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Poland, which dramatically improved their rankings, had each raised their teacher standards, leading to improved teacher quality.
In recent years, 33 U.S. states have taken measures to toughen teacher requirements. Illinois, however, is moving in the opposite direction. Last April, Illinois dropped a basic skills test requirement for admission to a teacher-training program, out of fear it would result in significantly reduced enrollment in education schools, even though the test’s difficulty is mostly regarded to be at the high-school level. Such a decision costs Illinois public school students the high-quality teachers research says are needed to improve student outcomes.