Growth in Administrative Staff, Assistant Principals Far Outpaces Teacher Hiring

Ira Stoll:

Labor Department counts 271,020 K-12 “education administrators,” with an average wage of more than $100,000 a year.

Are schools really spending more on administration than they used to? The short answer is yes.

A recent Education Next blog post, “Could Covid Finally Disrupt the Top-Down Education Bureaucracy?” by the founder of the Campaign for Common Good, Philip K. Howard, included this passage: “While teacher pay has stagnated over the past two decades, the percentage of school budgets going to administrators has skyrocketed. Half the states now have more noninstructional personnel than teachers. The Charleston County, South Carolina, school system had 30 administrators earning over $100,000 in 2013. Last year it had 133 administrators earning more than $100,000. Union officials and central bureaucrats owe their careers to the bureaucratic labyrinth they create and oversee.”

That paragraph touched a nerve and generated some pushback from skeptics. One, in private correspondence, claimed we were mischaracterizing or misunderstanding “custodians or teacher aides.” The reader pointed to a table from the U.S. Department of Education drawn from the department’s National Public Education Financial Survey, claiming it contradicted the claim that administrative spending had increased.

Such a financial survey, though, is a hazardous operation. The school district administrators that fill out financial surveys have every interest in obscuring spending on administration, mischaracterizing it as spending on instruction. It’s a little like asking your ne’er-do-well husband to report how much money he spends on beer. He’d rather report it as “supermarket expenses,” or “food and beverage expenses,” or some other broad category that blurs what it really is.