Kate Childs Graham
WASHINGTON—This week, a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute was released on school support staff. Showing a dramatic increase in the number of these staff members at public schools, the report suggests that schools are "adding more hands, but not necessarily more value." In response to the report, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson made the following statement:
"I got my start as a teacher's aide in Baltimore's public schools, and I've seen how value is not always in the bottom line of a school district budget. For the child who learned to read because a paraprofessional sat down, one-on-one, and taught her, letter by letter, that paraprofessional is far more than a salary. That paraprofessional is invaluable.
"Prior to the mid-1960s, there were no paraprofessionals in schools. With the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title I, the Bilingual Education Act and other targeted programs, we saw a much-needed increase of these vital workers. The Fordham report glosses over the importance of these programs in improving the quality of public education for each and every child.
"The report further disregards the evidence we have on the impact of paraprofessionals on student achievement. A 2009 review from the Educational Support and Inclusion Group, for instance, cites many studies showing that targeted literacy support by trained teacher aides has a positive impact on student progress.
"School support staff are an essential part of our public schools. They are the backbone of our system. To imply that we should thin their ranks is a direct threat to the public school students who rely on them."