The poor performance of our public schools is a direct result of the way our school systems are managed. The system has come to display all of the symptoms one would fear from a monopoly with a captive clientele – waste, rigidity, and low productivity. In the many areas where Americans excel, organizations and businesses who provide services and products must compete with each other to meet the customer's needs and desires. However, the customer has almost no choice when it comes to primary and secondary education. Rather, the public school system is rigid, unresponsive, and answerable virtually to no one. Large and growing bureaucracies administer the school districts of most large U.S. cities and they prevent the necessary responsiveness and flexibility to address the basic problems of the local schools.
In the Chicago School District, over 3,000 employees work in the central and district offices just to perform administrative tasks. This compares strikingly to the 36 administrators assigned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to serve one-third as many pupils. Furthermore, between 1976 and 1986 student enrollment in the Chicago Public Schools dropped by 18 percent and the number of classroom teachers fell eight percent. However, the number of employees assigned to the central and district offices rose by 47 percent. (Herbert J. Walberg, et al., We Can Rescue Our Children (Chicago: URF Educational Foundation and Green Hill Publishers, 1988).
A group of Chicago business leaders, sickened by the bloated bureaucracy of the Chicago Public School system, informed the Chicago Board of Education that the ratio of administrators to students in the Chicago Public Schools was one to 143, while in Chicago's Catholic Schools the ratio was one to 6,250. (Educational Choice: A Catalyst for Reform. A Report of the Task Force on Education of the City Club of Chicago, August, 1989, page 11).
Recently, Fordham University Professor Bruce Cooper and graduate student Robert Sarrel published a study which identifies "where every dollar of the $1.4 billion spent on New York City high school students went in 1988-89." The study finds that of the greater than $6,000 spent per high school student, less than $2,000 reaches the classroom. Approximately two-thirds is spent on the bureaucracy running the school system. They cited the example that at Brooklyn's education headquarters alone about 125 people work on public affairs and strategic planning. This study confirms the notion that in our monopolistic education system increased spending typically bloats bureaucracy and rarely reaches the classroom.
Andrew J. Stein, president of the New York City Council, explains how teachers, principals and custodians are not held accountable for their actions, even when they commit crimes. He writes:
The (New York City School) board's files bulge with appalling cases – teachers convicted of drug dealing and sexual abuse who continue to teach. Only one of 63,000 teachers was fired in 1988 for conduct unbecoming of a teacher. It is even less likely for a principal or a custodian to be disciplined. Although the city employs about 1,000 principals, not one has been fired during the past ten years; formal charges have been brought against only five.
The system not only doesn't deliver accountability, it wastes millions of dollars. The board currently spends more than $10,000 a day on salaries of teachers who sit idly in district offices while their cases drag on endlessly.
Accountability is further eroded because most teachers are protected by a six-month statute of limitations, making it almost impossible to prove incompetence. Principals are granted tenure tied to one school after three years – a practice unheard of anywhere else in America. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for district superintendents or the Chancellors to exercise meaningful supervision of principals.
This coming fiscal year, the city proposes to spend $6.4 billion on education. We could spend $10 billion. But unless we create a system that rewards excellence and punishes wrongdoing, we will doom our children to a failed system (emphasis by author).