Time to Trim Teachers

By:  Michael Tennant
Time to Trim Teachers

Contrary to President Obama's claims, laying off public-school teachers won't hurt educational outcomes or the economy; in fact, it will do just the opposite says the free market Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson.


Conventional wisdom has it that more teachers in school classrooms mean better education for the students in those classrooms, which in turn means economic growth. Certainly that’s the opinion of President Barack Obama, who just last month stated: “When there are fewer teachers in our schools, class sizes start climbing up. Our students start falling behind. And our economy takes a hit.” Urging Congress to send money to states to keep existing teachers and even rehire laid-off teachers, Obama declared that “the last thing our country needs is to have fewer teachers in our schools.”

Au contraire, says the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson. Fewer teachers in public schools are exactly what our country needs, he argues in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled — to 6.4 million from 3.3 million — and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs.

Of course, one might argue that cutting back on school staff, especially teachers, would inevitably lead to worse education. However, as Coulson points out, “a doubling in staff size and more than a doubling in cost have done little to improve academic outcomes,” with federal standardized test scores for 17-year-olds barely having budged over the last 40 years and graduation rates having “stagnated or fallen.” A significant reduction in staff size, therefore, hardly seems likely to do any great harm to student achievement.

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Photo: Portrait of a smiling teacher in a classroom via Shutterstock

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