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Study Gives U.S. Teachers High Marks for Respect

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The comedian Rodney Dangerfield made a name for himself by complaining that he got no respect. Now an international study suggests that American teachers will no longer be able to do the same.

Secondary school teachers in the United States are more respected by the public than teachers are in many other industrialized nations around the world, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says in a new compilation of international statistics on education.

According to the report, 68 percent of the 1,000 adult Americans surveyed said secondary school teachers were "very" or "fairly" respected.

Among the 11 O.E.C.D. nations surveyed for that part of the study, only Austrians expressed more admiration for the teaching profession, with 74 percent of the adults polled in that country expressing high levels of respect.

The findings on public attitudes toward education are among the newest data in the 373-page report, "Education at a Glance: O.E.C.D. Indicators."

Released this month in Washington and Paris, this report is the organization's third and largest edition. It contains statistics on school finance, labor-market conditions, and schooling in as many as 28 nations.

Pay Lags Behind

The high degree of respect Americans expressed for secondary school teachers contrasts sharply with that of some other nations, such as Spain, where only about a third of adults polled said teachers were well respected.

Norberto Bottani, a senior official at the O.E.C.D.'s Center for Educational Research and Innovation, said Americans' high regard for teachers was a surprise. But he also points out a contradiction between the public's professed respect for teaching and the salaries Americans pay their teachers.

The salaries of teachers in the elementary and lower-secondary or middle levels in U.S. schools are among the highest in the world in terms of purchasing power.

But their pay scales do not compare as favorably when they are viewed relative to the nation's gross domestic product per capita.

The G.D.P. per capita is a measure of the average citizen's share of a nation's total income or wealth.

In most O.E.C.D. countries, teachers start out earning well above the G.D.P. per capita. The United States, however, is one of only four nations surveyed in which the average starting salaries of elementary and lower-secondary teachers fall below that index. The other nations are Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

The data on salaries, however, did not include figures for high school or upper-secondary-school teachers who, in many European nations, typically are accorded higher status than their colleagues who teach younger students.

Despite their relatively lower pay status, the report points out, American teachers spend more time in the classroom than their counterparts in the average O.E.C.D.-member nation. At the high school level, only Turkish teachers clock more direct-teaching time.

In a compatible finding, the report shows that American students receive more instructional hours than students in many other nations.

American 9-year-olds, for example, get 1,001 instructional hours per year--an amount exceeded only in the Netherlands, where 9-year-olds spend 18 more hours a year in the classroom. New Zealand, with 953 yearly instructional hours for 9-year-olds, is third.

In comparison, pupils in the same age group annually spend between 585 and 662 hours in class in Iceland, Germany, and Denmark. The data do not include statistics for Japan or other Asian nations where students typically score high on international assessments.

"There's a great deal of emphasis here on talking about the number of days in the school year; however, the number of hours in the United States is typically longer," said Nabeel Alsalam, the director of special studies and reports for the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, which took part in the study.

Spending Comparisons

Among other findings, the report also notes that, in absolute terms, the United States continues to spend more per student on K-12 education than any other O.E.C.D. nation.

But, when educational expenditures are viewed as a percentage of the national wealth, the United States ranks fourth in spending behind Canada, Finland, and Hungary.

The United States in 1991 spent 7 percent of its G.D.P. on public and private education at all levels. The two lowest-spending nations--Germany and Japan--spent 4.9 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.

The study also shows that, even though Americans overwhelmingly rate science and mathematics among the most important subjects taught in school, the nation's colleges and universities turn out smaller proportions of scientists and engineers than other nations do.

Seven nations have more science graduates per 100,000 people than the United States does.

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