Coulson in Wall St. Journal: Too Many Teachers Means Time for Tax Credits

Even though it’s the middle of the summer, your (no, really, it will be fun) homework assignment is to read the new Wall Street Journal guest opinion column by the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson:

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.

Coulson goes on to demonstrate that the massive increase in the education workforce has not resulted in measurable benefits anywhere remotely near the additional $210 billion spent per year. Could there possibly be too many teachers employed across the nation? The approach of hiring more educators, drastically reducing class sizes, while expanding government payrolls and the pool of union members has been a colossal misappropriation.

Now, this observation is nothing completely new or startling to those who have followed me since I was 5 four years ago (as opposed to being 5 now), when I noted that there certainly can be such a thing as too many teachers. When it comes down to it, I’ll lean toward teacher quality over quantity any day of the week. The American Enterprise Institute’s Daniel Lautzenheiser has raised the issue of good teachers being hard to find in a two-part Education Week blog series.

If done correctly, reducing the ratio of education employees to students should improve the overall quality of the teaching workforce. But it’s only part of the solution. As the Hassel education policy duo explained months ago in Education Next, new technologies (read: blended learning) can enhance the reach of excellent teachers. Coulson places a lot of hope in K-12 tuition tax credits as a way to increase not only educational options but also more efficient deployment of public education dollars and personnel decisions. You’re probably not surprised to see me applaud that idea, too.

Empower parents, not unions. Maybe that sounds too simple, but it represents a big step in the right direction.