Think Twice Review Analyzes Overstaffing Research

Continuing its Think Twice Review series, the Great Lakes Center takes on a recent report published by Benjamin Scafidi and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which argues that the since the recent growth in education-related staffing is outpacing growth in student population, states could benefit from adopting a greater range of school choice options — including introducing voucher programs.

As part of its efforts to bring more rigor to education-related scholarship, the Think Twice project looks at publications that have made waves in the recent months and determines if the science underpinning the findings within is sound.

And the conclusions on the Friedman Foundation papers is that the issue needs closer examination. According to Great Lakes, Scafidi bases his conclusions of a number of faulty premises, and doesn’t stop to examine the reason behind the rise in the number of staff. Furthermore, the prescriptions offered in the paper – expansion of school choice – aren’t shown to be an improvement, at least not when it comes in terms of slowing or reversing the trend.

The review, which was authored by Joydeep Roy of Columbia University’s Teachers College, points out that no conclusions could be drawn from the staffing surge without a thorough analysis being undertaken about the duties and the responsibilities of the new employees. Roy points out that had the report not left this information gap, it could have provided more value and better support for its conclusions.

Also questionable is the assertion that additional staff had no impact on either student achievement or school drop-out rates between 1992 and 2009, the period covered by the Friedman paper. According to Roy, the fact that both achievement and drop-out numbers improved during this time wasn’t sufficiently noted.

Further, the report’s recommendations are problematic in its uncritical presentation of school choice as a solution to financial and staffing increases. The report presents no evidence that school choice – whose record on improving educational outcomes and efficacy is mixed – will resolve this “problem.”

The most glaring problem with the Friedman report appeared to Great Lakes to be that in recommending school choice as a solution to overstaffing, the author seems to be ignoring that both charter and private schools suffer the same issues that the report appears to be criticizing. Specifically, private schools who would be the main beneficiaries of almost any voucher program boast smaller classes — and therefore larger staff – than public schools. At the same time, data shows that charters spend a substantially larger proportion of their funding on administrative costs compared to traditional district schools. It isn’t made clear how introducing school choice would alleviate the very things that the author finds so problematic.