School staffing up nearly 400%, but not with teachers

Nathan Miller, 5, works on printing his name with the help of Sharae Morgan, a teacher's aide, at the Brown E. Moore Head Start Center in Shreveport, Louisiana.

School staffing has shot up 377 percent over the past several decades, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A huge chunk of that growth is the number of teacher aides — the Girl and Guy Fridays (sort of) of the classroom.

They're the ones that help a teacher corral 25 kids on a playground, or run to the copier when there's a room full of kids to supervise. It's no wonder teachers love them.

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

"Parents are positive toward aides because they give their kids more attention," says Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, who has done research on teacher aides.

Aides are especially appreciated by parents of kids with special needs. Over the years, federal laws have empowered parents to make sure their kids are getting the education they need. Having an aide is often part of that plan, says Matthew Richmond, who wrote the Fordham report.

"So as those expectations have risen over time," he says, "I think that what you've seen is just an increase in number of personnel in order to help provide those services." 

Plus, Richmond says, because they're not certified, they're cheaper than teachers, and they're easy to find.

Slavin says, while aides might help teachers, they haven't had an impact on student grades. 


School staffing in the U.S. – what "non-teachers" actually do

Graphic courtesy of the Fordham Institute.

The Fordham Institute's study uses several different categories to classify non-teaching staff positions:

Teacher Aides – Staff members assigned to assist a teacher with routine activities associated with instruction.

School Administration – School administrators (principals and assistant principals) and administrative staff.

Student Support Staff – Staff that "nurture" students but do not provide or directly support instruction (psychologists, speech pathologists, etc.).

Guidance Staff – Guidance counselors.

Library Staff – Librarians and library support staff.

Instructional Coordinators – Staff that supervise instructional programs (curriculum coordinators, home economics supervisors, etc.).

"Other" Staff – Staff not included in another category (custodians, food service staff, etc.).


CORRECTION: The report from Fordham University incorrectly stated that staffing increased 500 percent. The increase was to 6.2 million from 1.3 million, a 377 percent increase. 

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