Sunday, September 11, 2011

Of Educational Budgets and Teachers

Today I have made important progress on the operating budget for One World Secondary School, an important feat given the pressures on all educational spending today, and a difficult one given that budgetary information is comparatively hard to come by (a famous school in Berlin has yet to respond to my enquiry, unlike its counterparts in Geneva and Singapore).

The first striking fact one encounters when comparing the budgets of different kinds of schools is how much they vary in their spending on teachers. Independent schools, which are as a class the most effective in preparing students for success in higher education, regularly spend 80-85 percent of their operating budgets on personnel, with the vast majority of this on teachers, as compared with traditional public schools, which usually spend less than 50 percent on teachers. Some prominent charter organizations spend even less on teachers as a group (they may be more generous with individual salaries) than the public schools do, and they are often disappointed with their results when they arrive in August. Professor William G. Ouchi, in The Secret of TSL*, shows that reducing each teacher's total student load (thus the abbreviation "TSL") is the most effective way for schools to spend their money if they want their students' achievement tests to be judged proficient according to their state standards.

In planning for One World Secondary, I've found that if you take the average U.S. per-student spending, which just exceeds $10,000 per year, and, like an independent school, you spend 80-85 percent of your budget on personnel, and most of that on compensating teachers, and then you use the salary scale in Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which is a significant raise over current American teacher compensation practices, you can bring your student/teacher ratio down very near to 10:1, just as an independent school does; and if you arrange for a contact ratio (which is the proportion of total time during the school day a teacher spends in front of students) of 60 percent, which is the rough international average, instead of the 83 percent of the typical American teacher's contract, you get an average class size of 16, and a total student load in the 80s, which mean much more teacher attention for each individual student, and a much better opportunity to learn to write, which is the most neglected of the three Rs today.

That's how to spend school monies effectively, and that's how we'll do it at One World. Other organizations have had their chance to do better, and we'll all have to live with the mediocre results, until innovation is allowed to flourish.  


  1. (submitted on behalf of John Thompson) Ouchi and you are right. Total student load is hugely important and most non-teachers don't understand it. Our state law limits total load to 140 students PER DAY. Consequences for violating it are small. BUT, that was a big reason for AB Block scheduling. With that schedule, teachers could be assigned 280 students (I once got 247) Our school tried to obey the law, but it allowed some classes to be turned into complete dumping ground with 80 plus students.

  2. That's a clear sign of the school's managerial incompetence, John, although it's not necessarily the fault of the administrators on site. It is typical of why I call for more flexibility and more responsibility flowing to the school sites, instead of having them tangled up in central office red tape all of the time. And this decentralizing trend has been gaining ground across the world for a good 20 years now.