Free Markets, Free People

Charts of the day – do we really need more teachers?

Apparently the president’s job initiative centers around hiring 10,000 more union teachers.

The reason given is we need to beef up our math and science achievement.  And, as usual, the way to do that is to throw either more money or more teachers at the job.

What everyone ignores, however, is we’ve been doing both for years with no change.  What’s the definition of insanity again?




So for an approximate 10% rise in enrollment, we’ve added 10 more public school employees for every student.  And we’ve also seen the spending go through the proverbial roof as a result.  The normal, everyday, tax paying citizen would most likely expect spectacular results if he or she invested the amount they were taxed in something of their choice.  Instead, they end up screwed again:



Looking at those two charts, does anyone think the problem is related only to the money spent or the number of teachers?

Japan spends about 5% of its GDP on education, pays its teachers the equivalent of $25,000 US, has average class sizes of 33 and graduates 93% of its students from their equivalent of high school.  South Korea actually spends more of its GDP than does the US (7.35%), pays its teachers a little over $27,000 US, has huge average class sizes (almost 36) and has a graduation rate of 91.23%.  The US’s stats are 7.38% GDP, average teacher’s salary of almost $36,000, average class size of 19 and a graduation rate at a dismal 77.53%.

To most that would signal that something is wrong other than the number of teachers or what we’re spending.  Somehow, however, that message seems never to get through to our political leaders who continually work under the premise that more money and more bodies is bound, at some point, to make it all better.

That thinking, In this case, given the word pictures the two charts paint, it is obviously wrong.  When and how we can get that message across to both sides of the political spectrum remains to be seen.  But if the left wants to invoke the “for the children” canard in an attempt to shame the right into capitulating for the usual remedies, maybe they can put these two charts in their pockets and make one up of the comparative spending and graduation rates and change not only the discussion, but the solution.  My guess the new solution would take less people and less money.  Wouldn’t the taxpayers love that?



21 Responses to Charts of the day – do we really need more teachers?

  • Ugly.
    I’ve seen graphs that show an inverse relationship between Federal spending and educational outcomes.  I don’t think the mechanism for that is even difficult to understand.
    Markets innovate, and raise the standard of living.

  • Teachers are self-serving.  The question is: are teachers there for the students or are the students there for the teachers?  Kind of like politics today: is the govt. here for our convenience or are we here for the govts. convenience?

    • Administration is a big part of the spending – little bureuacracies staffed doing arcane form-filling jobs, etc.

  • Everytime I hear a teacher comment on the fact that they do not make enough I point out that we have gone from teaching Latin in High School during my grandfather’s childhood to Remedial English in college.  In a span of 80 years.

    • But they’ve accomplished what’s important, the students now feel good about being un-educated.

  • As a person who has been a teacher I can tell you that all other things being equal it is much better to have a smaller class size. With a small class size you can give some students more individual attention. 

    However, if your teaching quality in general sucks, then it will make little difference. So you see small class size making a bigger difference in School districts that are already above average.

    At least hiring more teachers would be a break from the last twenty years when the emphasis was hiring more non-teaching staff.

    Whereas throwing money at a problem will not fix it.  In some places, like my state for instance, it would be very helpful because we have had a huge rise in students, and a contraction in revenues because of using property taxes to fund education.

    • IIRC, from an econtalk podcast, smaller class sizes do not correlate with better results. You can also consider Asian test scores in math, despite 40 kids in a classroom there. How do they do it?

      Of course, to some extent you are right, that if the kids require individual attention, then less kids is better. However, its hard to also notice that less kids = less work for the teacher.

      I also learned from another podcast Radiolab? that there has been work on computerizing teaching much like Pandora works, i.e. the algorithm works to find out where the student is having trouble and then can focus on that area or the teacher could then come over and help. I think that’s pretty exciting.

      • I’m a teacher now. I know that if I had 40 students in my classroom, very little learning would happen. The students in the middle would be taught, while the high and low students would either be bored to death or be forever at a “sorta-kinda” level of understanding. Work would be primarily out of textbooks out of necessity (management of 22 kids doing different things at the same time is difficult enough).
        I would still be able to differentiate instruction some of the time, but I wouldn’t be able to plan that differentiation – as it is I spent 2-4 hours every day, plus 4-6 hours every weekend, outside of school hours planning, preparing, and grading papers. If I were to plan differentiation (targeted teaching) for twice the number of students, it wouldn’t take me twice as much time, but I would probably need another half hour per day just for that, and grading would take twice as long. Most tests would have to be multiple-choice, and writing assignments would be necessarily short, in order to make grading reasonable.
        I think a lot of the reason that Asian schools are able to pack their classrooms with students and still be successful is that there is a LOT of parental support and a culture of education there. In the United States, intelligence is ridiculed and most parents can’t even help a fifth grader with their homework. Play (including TV, “general play”, and especially football for boys) often comes before homework. Students don’t have a place to work that is quiet at home. In Asia, students leave school and sit down to do homework. They do their homework and then study. They study until they go to cram school. They go to cram school until bedtime. They are EXPECTED to work this hard, by both their parents and their teachers, and they do. I can expect all the work I want from my students, and state that I expect them to be successful if they try hard, but if that message isn’t reflected at home, then it doesn’t stick. As a result, they don’t try. When half of the class doesn’t try to learn, the other half has to wait for them to catch up as I, the teacher, try to force enough interest for them to “get it”. The unmotivated never “get it” well, because by the time they scratch out the basics, we must (directed by the pace of standards) move on to a new topic.
        Students are also (not all of them, but enough that it disrupts) rude and disruptive. They spend as much time as possible chatting between subjects. They argue. I use the discipline plan that the entire school uses (changing color cards), but some kids just don’t care. Then again, the discipline may or may not be reinforced at home – if a kid breaks a rule at school, they should at least get a serious talking to at home. If they are just allowed to go play, then they don’t care if I turn their card.
        What we need is a culture shift. Being an educated person is something that should be a good thing. It should be a goal. Graduation shouldn’t be “freedom”, it should be a sad time when you now have to work instead of getting to learn all the time. Barbie shouldn’t say “Math is hard!” When smart people are respected instead of bullied, and effort in school is rewarded socially instead of just eventually, then we may get to where the Asian countries are.
        Then again, kids in those countries get stress ulcers over exams. So we have to choose what we want: educational success for most (95%), with stress along the way – or a relaxed childhood with a relatively low (75%) chance of success.

  • Whenever I see the ads begging me to vote for more money for schools because teachers are underpaid, I always wonder: is that money really going to pay teachers?  Because I see the class sizes stay the same (the class size is negotiated with the union so the funds can’t be going to reduce it) and the schools all get new computers to replace the new computers they got last year.  And it’s funny how they never seem to add Kindergarten teachers, but they’re always adding Special Ed teachers.  Special Ed kids come with extra funding, see.

    • Bingo. My kid is labeled an ESL student even though she is above grade level in English proficiency and is in the highest reading group, etc. I assume that’s for the money as well.

    • Teachers are quite WELL paid now.  Over two decades, they’ve gone into a category that is paid better than a lot of engineers, lawyers, and other MUCH more difficult professions.

  • If you take out the ESL students and the inner city schools, I bet the graduation rate is close to Japan’s and Korea’s.  I also wonder if you look at graduation rates of 2-parent households v. single parent households that you will see a huge disparity. Yes, money is not the answer, but I bet native English and 2-parent households are the answer. The question is what can government or private enterprise do (if anything) to account for those huge disadvantages.

  • You might want to see what is up with your site. Got warned twice when trying to follow the link here that this site was a threat. I’m guessing the threat is more to the status quo than it is viral or hacking in nature.

    • It is only on Google’s Chrome, which apparently has a problem with RCP blogrolling and is showing that warning on many websites. FireFox and IE don’t issue the warning. My Kapersky shows no problem with the site either.

  • More special ed students equals more money, that is a fact. There are numerous forms that, if not filled out correctly, will cost a district money and get the sp. ed. person’s ass in the wringer faster and harder than almost any other mistake they can make. Trust me, I know first hand (or first ass).
    As much as I frequently enjoy my job, I’ve increasingly come to view sp. ed. as a weird combination of psychobabbliezed voodoo, mind-draining paperwork and an out and out scam.