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Teachers & Teaching        < Previous        Next >


'The Blob' That Ate Teacher Pay


Q. Remember those sci-fi movies from the 1950s, when a pulsing, growing, gooey alien called "The Blob" threatened to take over the planet? It wasn't sci-fi. It was the nonteaching bureaucracy in public education. AAAIIIEEE!!! The Blob! That's what the non-teaching staff in our schools and regulatory agencies has come to be called. A pulsing, growing, gooey glob of people employed in public education who rarely, if ever, have contact with actual children. Could having to pay the freight for the increasing educational bureaucracy be the reason for decreasing resources available for teacher salaries?


Look at education agency staff directories and school yearbooks. See all the nonteachers working in our schools and educracies: assistant assessment directors, health aides, bouncers, ESL aides, ESU aides, E-I-E-I-O aides, latchkey coordinators, assistants to the consultants to the undersecretaries to the vice-poohbahs. . . .


Former Education Secretary William Bennett nicknamed the non-teaching staff who work for public schools and in the various education bureaucracies as "The Blob." A lot of what The Blob does is important - there are just too many people employed to do those tasks. And a lot of the other tasks that taxpayers are paying to be done in the name of education is, well, alien to the mission of educating young people. It's like adding a square dance team, kick boxers and brick masons to the crew of a spaceship.


Is it a coincidence that, as the more The Blob has grown, the more expensive public education has become? And, after all this hiring and all this spending, isn't it ironic that the end product, which is supposed to be literate, numerate and civilized citizens, is being accused of getting worse, not better?


Let's look closer at The Blob in the State of Nebraska. How many education workers in Nebraska would you guess are classroom teachers? Eight out of 10?


Nope, only 53%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.


The noninstructional Blob takes up the other 47%.


Since Blobarians generally earn more than teachers, and since salaries and benefits consume more than four-fifths of education spending, The Blob costs big bucks.


The people who cry out for higher teacher pay often neglect to mention, much less express gratitude for, the percentage of citizens' incomes and wealth that is already going to public education. Again, let's consider Nebraska: it was third in the nation in the percentage of total state spending devoted to public education: 40.7%. That's according to the Niobrara Institute, citing statistics from the Congressional Quarterly State Fact Finder.


The reason for that huge bite out of every tax dollar? My guess is, overstaffing in the non-classroom functions of our schools and education agencies.


Here's the telltale proof: Nebraska ranks seventh in the nation in public education workers as a percentage of our total working population, the institute reports. For every 10,000 working Nebraskans, 256 work in public education. That's 18.5% more than the national average of 216.


And we're 11th in the nation in education spending per person. We spend $1,711 per capita, more than Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and both Dakotas as well as biggies such as California, Ohio and Texas, according to U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Commerce figures quoted by the institute.


Every time we raise teacher pay, we raise Blob pay. They're entwined, like a mother spaceship and her pods.


Bet we could blast off Nebraska's teacher pay higher than the moon if we would just do one thing: RIF The Blob.


Not all of it. We need some Blob. Just not so much.


Guess why private schools do a better job for less money? They minimize The Blob.


This is good. Because blobs tend to cover up rather than reveal. They have trouble finding direction. All blobs do is spread out.


(I've been pregnant four times; I know.)


But in education, this is not a blessed event. Massive school bureaucracies divert resources away from real educational activities. When all these nonteachers try "innovative" fads and throw their hearts into nonproductive, nonacademic tangents to try to justify their jobs, they often make things worse for children.


Why do we put up with this?


Are we just . . . spacey?


Now, look. I'm not saying every nonteacher who works in education does a lousy job. I'm just saying it's time for a lot more prudence in educational personnel management.


That means examining each job in each school district and each education bureaucracy . . . and seeing which ones are cost-effective and good for kids, and which ones should be blasted back into outer space.


Homework: Here's a gold mine full of articles about "The Blob" from an organization devoted to trying to put "The Blob" on a diet by getting school choice and charter schools going, and helping more families afford private-school tuition:


By Susan Darst Williams Teachers 10 2008



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