Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

Where are the teachers?

(Original title: Free the DOE 4,000)

Alert reader Brett Lomon chided me recently for saying that we had a 16:1 student/teacher ratio in the classroom. He points out it is more like 30:1 in the classroom. We are both right. I said we have a 16:1 ratio but I did not say the teachers were in the classroom, just on the payroll.

According to the Dept. of Education (from State Data Books), the number of students in our public schools was 178,564 in 1970 and 183,795 in 1995—a 3% increase. A commensurate 3% increase in teachers over the 7,300 we had in 1970 would have given us 7,514 teachers in 1995. Instead, we have 11,602—a 59% increase—or over 4,000 extra teachers. [1]

However, as long-time teachers tell me, they have seen little change in the actual classroom ratio. So where are the missing 4,000 teachers who are costing us about $160 million a year?

Well, 25-30% of the automobiles out on the street are uninsured and we cannot find them either. If we cannot find 200,000 uninsured automobiles, why get perturbed over 4,000 teachers?

We have insurance company databases listing 500,000 insured automobiles and county databases listing 700,000 registered automobiles. Yet we seem unable to deduct one from the other to get the names and addresses of the freeloaders who are skipping on $200 million of insurance. This is a matter for us civilians to contemplate—maybe, even savor. If our government is messing up something this simple, what else is it messing up?

Which brings me back to finding the missing 4,000 teachers. Maybe we could have a roll call? We check that the kids are in school every day—why not do the same for teachers? Some are bound to show up.

Which brings me to the next question: The teachers who are actually in the classroom say they have not noticed the difference in having the extra 4,000 teachers. Logically, they are not going to notice the difference if these teachers are no longer there—wherever 'there' may be. This assumes, of course, that we can find these extra teachers to give them their notice. Maybe if we just stop sending them their paychecks they'll phone in at least. (I wonder how many of these paychecks we send out of state?).

Personally, I believe that the whole affair will boil down this: Bureaucrats are promoted on the basis of how many people are working for them. The more you have working for you, the more you get promoted, and the more money you make. Therefore, the incentives in the bureaucracy require you to sweat and strain at justifying new positions—under you.

We may well find the missing 4,000 at DOE all working hard. After all, once you reach a critical mass of bureaucrats (a bloat of bureaucrats?) they can keep each other busy, even working overtime, without any outside communication at all. Reports have to be drafted, critiqued, and rewritten. Memos must be written and replied to. Paperwork has to go up and down the chain of command. Conferences have to be attended and papers written about them. Let no one say that education bureaucrats do not work hard. Of course, nothing happens at the classroom level except occasional interference to make the teachers' work more frustrating.

Anyway, sooner or later, someone is going to show up at the legislature and confess, "I know about the missing 4,000" and we will be able to put the scandal to rest. This person will be able to tell where the 4,000 have been and what they have been doing for their $160 million a year. Then we get on with looking for the missing 200,000 uninsured automobiles.

Cliff Slater, a local businessman, represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii. Footnoted versions of his columns are at


[1] For 1995 data see 1995 EDITION STATE OF HAWAII DATA BOOK, Section 3: EducationTable 3.08-- SCHOOLS, TEACHERS, ENROLLMENT, AND HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES, FOR PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOL SYSTEMS: 1984-1985 TO 1994-1995 available at:

For 1970 data see Schmitt, Robert C. ed. Historical Statistics of Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1977. Table 9.4, page 216.