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Global Study: U.S. Teachers Work More Hours, With Less Financial Return

On average, teachers in the United States spend more hours in the classroom than their international counterparts, without apparent salary gains to show for it, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's annual Education-at-a-Glance report. The 570-page report, released this week, covers all 34 OECD member countries as well as 10 partner countries.

The study brings together data from a variety of government and OECD studies, including the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey and the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment.

The study, which looked at both public and private education, finds that American students spend more time in the classroom during grades one through nine than students in most OECD countries do. The average across all countries is 7,475 hours of compulsory instruction over the course of nine or ten years; in the United States, it's 8,835. Only Australia, Colombia, and Spain outrank the U.S. in terms of overall classroom hours.

Predictably, U.S. teachers also spend more time teaching in the classroom than their international counterparts. U.S. teachers in grades 10 through 12 spent an average of 1,076 hours teaching students each year, while the global average is just 655 hours, according to the study. For U.S. teachers of grades one through six, the number jumps to 1,131 hours.

teaching-hours-chart-US.jpg

Of course, classroom instruction is only one of the many tasks that consume a teacher's time, but U.S. teachers' jobs appear to be nearly as demanding of teachers outside the classroom. According to the OECD report, the total working time for a late-high school teacher in the United States is 1,960 hours per year. The only country with a higher total is Chile, at 1,971 hours.

Unfortunately, the extra time doesn't necessarily translate into better salaries for U.S. teachers. Though the United States spends more money per student than all but four of the studied countries, U.S. teachers' salaries are fairly low when compared to those of comparably educated workers in other industries.

That is the case in most OECD countries—on average, teachers in all countries surveyed earn between 80 percent and 92 percent of the salary of a college-educated worker, depending on what level they teach—but the ratio is even lower in the United States, with upper-grade teachers taking home only 70 percent of what their peers in other fields earn.

The United States also spends a lower proportion of education-related funds on teachers than other countries do, according to the study. Just under 55 percent of public and private school expenditures go to paying teachers, compared to 62.8 percent in OECD countries on average.

The  OECD's Teaching and Learning International Survey, which was released in June, reported similar findings on U.S. teachers' work load but found that teachers still reported high levels of job satisfaction. However, it also found that less than a third feel valued by society.

Experts who commented on the earlier studied also expressed concerns that U.S. teachers weren't getting enough time for collaboration and planning. 

Image: Number of yearly teaching hours by country, with the United States in red. (Source: OECD)

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