Equity & Diversity

Teaching: Some Global Comparisons

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 19, 2017 3 min read

American teachers are on the whole younger and better paid than their counterparts in the rest of the world—but young college graduates still have less incentive than their global peers to step into K-12 classrooms.

That’s according to the annual “Education at a Glance” report—a nearly 500-page compendium of educational indicators across more than 50 industrialized countries by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

Teachers start with a higher average salary in the United States, about $42,500 at the elementary level, compared to under $31,000 for new teachers on average in the OECD. Yet, the data also show that young college graduates who majored in education in the United States have the lowest employment rate of any bachelor’s degree, 78 percent. And teachers here make less than 60 cents on every dollar made by others with their education level, putting it at the bottom of the OECD countries.

“While the rest of the world has prioritized teaching and learning, and is investing heavily in equity and teacher preparation, 36 U.S. states are spending less on education than before the Great Recession,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement on the findings. “If we want to make every school a school where parents want to send their kids, where teachers want to teach and where kids are engaged, then we have to make investing in education a priority and start treating teachers like the professionals they are.”

Moreover, U.S. teachers at all grade levels work longer hours than their international counterparts. For example, a 7th grade teacher in America puts in 1,366 hours at school each year, including more than 980 hours of teaching—which is nearly 270 more hours of teaching than the international average.

“In the U.S., teachers actually have quite a high teaching load compared to international averages, leaving them very little time for things other than teaching,” such as lesson planning or professional development, said Andreas Schleicher, the OECD director for education and skills.

Global Trends

In several areas, the OECD found the United States is bucking global trends in education—but not necessarily in a good way.

While on average industrialized countries are investing more in education, including lowering class sizes, increasing preschool enrollment, and expanding college-going, the United States has done the opposite in each case,

For example, while 9 out of 10 American 5-year-olds attend school—equal to the OECD average—73 percent of 3-year-olds across OECD countries attended preschool, while in America, only 43 percent did so. The gap was similar for 4-year-olds.

On the other end of the spectrum, postsecondary education is “becoming the norm,” not just in the United States but around the world. In 2016, 43 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds worldwide earned a “tertiary” degree—which includes associate, bachelor’s, and higher degrees—up from 26 percent in 2000. In the United States, that share was 48 percent in 2016, up from 38 percent in 2000. The share of Americans ages 20 to 29 who were still in school was below the global average.

“The world has more or less caught up with the United States and some countries … have overtaken the U.S. in [postsecondary] education,” said Schleicher.

For the first time, the OECD also looked at what students studied in college and how it affects their employment. While more than 1 in 5 postsecondary degrees are earned in business administration and law across OECD countries, science and engineering fields had higher rates of employment immediately after graduation.

In the United States in particular, “There’s a gap between what labor markets value and what people choose to study,” Schleicher said. “We all think of education as a great equalizer, but we still have a long way to go to make that a reality.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2017 edition of Education Week as Teaching: Some Global Comparisons


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