The Blob That Ate the Schools

Published January 3, 2011

Here’s an eye-opening school statistic for you: Only half of Oklahoma’s public education employees are teachers. The bureaucracy is now so big, it takes up half the system. It’s the blob that ate the schools.

Teachers’ unions, and the lousy teachers they protect, have become the central villain in the epic drama of education reform. And well they deserve the role—teachers’ unions exist to fatten themselves by destroying children’s lives.

And these days, all the attention is on teacher quality. Again, teacher quality well deserves the attention it’s getting. It sure beats not paying attention to teacher quality, which was the mode we were in until the last few years or so.

But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. Protecting lousy teachers from being fired doesn’t even begin to account for all the mischief the unions create. And raising teacher quality won’t save us if the schools themselves are dysfunctional institutions.

Federal data tell the tale: In Oklahoma, only 51 percent of the state’s public education employees are teachers. Another 10 percent are instructional aides and “coordinators”; 7 percent are building-level administration; 7 percent are in “student support” services such as counseling and nursing; 2 percent are in library and media positions; 5 percent are district-level administration; and a gobsmacking 19 percent (more than 15,000 people) are in “other” positions—bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and so on. (The numbers don’t quite sum to 100 percent due to rounding.)

This is not a local problem. It’s par for the course nationwide, as school systems in every state have been slowly but surely colonized by parasitic featherbedders. Oklahoma ranks 26th out of the 50 states—smack in the middle—for the percentage of public education employees who are teachers.