kitchen table math, the sequel: the cost of bureaucracy

Monday, March 30, 2009

the cost of bureaucracy

It is the purpose of this paper to test the following proposition: holding other important factors constant, does the size of the educational bureaucracy have any effect on the efficiency of school systems in producing educational achievement? The empirical results suggest that this is indeed the case. Using 1984 data from the states, we find that public school students in states having relatively large educational bureaucracies are less likely to graduate from high school, and those who do tend to perform more poorly on standardized achievement tests.

Educational achievement and the cost of bureaucracy Gary M. Anderson, William F. Shughart II, Robert D. Tollison
Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 15 (1991) 2945. North-Holland


ElizabethB said...

The worst school district I've ever lived in (and we move a lot and have lived in a lot) had the most administrators. They had the worst administrator to teacher ratio I've ever seen. There were also the largest number of military homeschoolers I've even seen--and this was in 1994, when homeschooling was just beginning to become popular.

I recently read that this school district has an overwhelmingly large civilian homeschooling population for its size, so things still must be bad.

Tracy W said...

Gosh - I'm going to get some use out of this paper.

Catherine Johnson said...

Elizabeth --- interesting

We have a MONSTER growth in administration here. It's breathtaking. It's so extreme that the administration has re-named the administrators to disguise the fact that they are administrators.

We've gone from something like....5 or 6 administrators 10 years ago to at least 15 today, and we now have a tier of tenured teachers who don't do classroom teaching but who teach-the-teachers.

Two "teaching-learning facilitators" and 1 "technology coordinator/chief information officer."

I especially love the idea that we have a tenured chief information officer in a district where you have to file a FOIL request to get hold of information.

The district is utterly different from what it was when we moved here 10 years ago.

Then, it was a friendly & informal place, with parents coming and going in the schools.

Now it is cold, formal, and locked down. The doors are locked -- literally; parents must sign in to enter the building & we aren't allowed to set foot inside classrooms.

Principals cook up "parent involvement events" like "parent pajama day" or some such. One of the principals, addressing the assembled pajama-clad parents, told them, "You parents wanted more involvement in the schools, so this is it." (This is secondhand, obviously.)

At every school event the teachers thank "central administration" for attending.

I'm serious!

"I would like to thank central administration for attending this event."

This is in a VILLAGE.

Projected enrollment next year is 1848 & we've got "central administrators" ordering everyone around.

It's not working.


Catherine Johnson said...

Here's an example.

A mom whose lived here forever told me this story.

Back when her daughter was little, her husband dropped into the high school principal's office to ask him what he thought about enrolling her in school.




Their daughter was on the cusp; if she'd enrolled in school that fall she would always have been the youngest in her class.

The principal said, "Well, you never hear parents complain that their child is the oldest in the class, but you always hear parents complain that their child is the youngest in the class."

This was a friendly observation, not a lecture on the subject of helicopter parents.

In short: the principal gave this dad common-sense advice off the cuff without a lot of rigmarole.

That was all they needed to hear, and they decided to wait a year to put their daughter in school.

They didn't have to delay; the principal hadn't given them an order.

He just gave them the benefit of his many years of experience teaching and heading a school.

Those days are gone.

fyi: in school year 2000-2001 the district budget was $25,000,000.

This year it is $50,000,000.

In inflation-adjusted dollars there has been a 50% increase in per pupil spending with no apparent increase of quality -- and with a distinct decrease in quality for students who thrive in a structured, cheerful environment.

Anonymous said...

Two of my all time favorite books are The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins. I can't do them justice here but my take away has been this...

Enormously complex systems, comprised of tiny little parts acting in their own petty self interests, can, over enough time and space, produce optimal systems. That's what happens in nature and societies.

Problems arise when humans vainly build bureaucracies to try to outsmart this mindless perfection.

Let's say you have a big butt. A big butt may be good or bad but if that determination is being made by your brain (the bureaucracy) instead of demonstrable evidence of just what your butt is good for, then the criteria used will be polluted by all manner of brain concerns that are not related to your butt.

The farther it is between the butt and the brain, and the bigger and more dominant the brain, the more the brain's decisions will bear no relation to reality.

I went to elementary school in an eight room school. It had a principal who also taught the third grade (full time). That was it! Eight adult teachers. No paras. No secretaries. No office. No psychologists. No police. It had humongous jungle gyms, monkey bars, and those circular, sit on it and go like hell thingies.

If our little butts weren't part of a high performing organism they were rapidly connected to the brain (principal) via her rubber tipped pointer that doubled as the administrative feedback system.

Very simple. Very effective.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a lot like mine, only mine was 1-12 (no kindergartens or preschools existed in town)and the principal taught 2-3 high-school classes. I think the secretary was added in the late 50s. Every teacher had a yardstick and the high-testosterone problems were handled personally, behind the school, by the junior high math teacher/high school coach. That was only needed once every 4 or 5 years. No special ed and we all learned how to read, write and do at least ordinary math - fractions, percents, decimals, interest etc.

lgm said...

>>fyi: in school year 2000-2001 the district budget was $25,000,000.

This year it is $50,000,000.

In inflation-adjusted dollars there has been a 50% increase in per pupil spending with no apparent increase of quality -- and with a distinct decrease in quality for students who thrive in a structured, cheerful environment.

How much is going to pensions and medical? Interesting article here:'s%20retirement&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=16&adxnnlx=1238781673-e/5rZSSGQ3/i8ry9KYtUAQ

Anonymous said...

There are an incredible number of secretaries, security, paras, sitting around, goofing around, driving around in golf carts.

I should have that job, not stuck in a classroom, jumping through the Classroom Management Hoop of the day.