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Animated chart of the day: Public school enrollment, staff, and inflation-adjusted cost per pupil, 1970 to 2016 – Publications – AEI

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AEI Animated chart of the day: Public school enrollment, staff, and inflation-adjusted cost per pupil, 1970 to 2016 My latest animated “bar chart race” visualization above shows the growth over nearly the last 50 years in: a) the number of students (K-12) enrolled in public schools, b) the number of public school teachers, c) the number of non-teaching staff (administrators, principals, assistant principals, support staff, librarians, guidance counselors and instructional aides), and d) the inflation-adjusted cost of public school education per pupil, all from 1970 to 2016. All of the figures shown in the animated chart are the percent of 1970 values. Here are some observations: 1. Over the 1970-2016 (most recent year available) period, the increase in the number of students attending US

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Animated chart of the day: Public school enrollment, staff, and inflation-adjusted cost per pupil, 1970 to 2016

My latest animated “bar chart race” visualization above shows the growth over nearly the last 50 years in: a) the number of students (K-12) enrolled in public schools, b) the number of public school teachers, c) the number of non-teaching staff (administrators, principals, assistant principals, support staff, librarians, guidance counselors and instructional aides), and d) the inflation-adjusted cost of public school education per pupil, all from 1970 to 2016. All of the figures shown in the animated chart are the percent of 1970 values. Here are some observations:

1. Over the 1970-2016 (most recent year available) period, the increase in the number of students attending US public schools has increased only 10.3% from 45.9 million to 50.6 million. From 1970 to the mid-1980s, public school enrollment decreased by nearly 6.5 million students (and by 14%) before rebounding by 1997 to the 1970 level of about 46 million students and then increasing steadily to more than 50 million by 2013.

2. In comparison, the number of public school teachers increased by 57% between 1970 and 2016 from about 2 million to 3.17 million, which reduced the pupil-to-teacher ratio by 30%, from almost 23-to-1 in 1970 to below 16-to-1 in 2016.

3. Over the same period, the number of non-teaching staff at public schools more than doubled, increasing by 147% from 1.4 million in 1970 to 3.3 million in 2016. Interestingly, while the number of public school teachers was flat between 1996 and 2016, the number of non-teaching staff continued to grow and by 2015 there were more non-teaching staff than teachers and that gap grew even larger in 2016 (see chart below).

4. As a direct result of public school staff (both teachers and non-teachers) growing so much greater (57% and 157% respectively) than the increase in public school students (10.3%) between 1970 and 2016, the inflation-adjusted cost of educating a student in US public schools increased by 150% between 1970 and 2016, from $4,934 to $12,220.

5. With the 150% inflation-adjusted increase in spending per public school pupil and the 30% reduction in the pupil-to-teacher since 1970, have there been any demonstrable educational improvements in student test scores? Unfortunately, No. While not shown in the animated chart above, this Department of Education report found that “Average reading and mathematics achievement for 17-year-olds did not change significantly between the early 1970s and 2012 or between 2008 and 2012.” (Although the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement results are for both private and public schools, private school enrollment represents less than 9% of students in grades 9-12.)  For example, the NAEP average reading score of 285 in 1971 was not significantly different from the 287 average score in 2015. Likewise, the 304 average score for the NAEP math assessment in 1971 was not significantly different from the 306 average score in 2015.

Bottom Line: Despite the significant increase between 1970 and 2016 in the number of public school teachers (57%) and non-teaching staff (147%) relative to the 10.3% increase in students, the significant 30% decrease in the pupil-to-teacher ratio in public schools and the significant 150% increase in inflation-adjusted spending per pupil attending public schools over that period, there was basically no change in academic achievement. More spending + more teachers + more administrators + no change in education outcomes = a failing public school monopoly that benefits entrenched unionized teachers who vigorously try to squash competition from charter schools and educational choice at the expense of taxpayers, parents and students.

Animated chart of the day: Public school enrollment, staff, and inflation-adjusted cost per pupil, 1970 to 2016 - Publications – AEI

Animated chart of the day: Public school enrollment, staff, and inflation-adjusted cost per pupil, 1970 to 2016
Mark Perry

Mark Perry
Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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