School & District Management What the Research Says

U.S. Teachers and Students Are Tops for Time Spent in School

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 17, 2019 2 min read
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U.S. students and teachers alike spend significantly more time at school than their international peers, according to the latest Education at a Glance compendium by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The mammoth annual report released last week tracks educational indicators for 46 member and participating countries, including the United States. It includes measures for early childhood through postgraduate education, as well as comparisons of teachers and principals.

It shows U.S. students and their teachers spend a lot more time in the classroom than their global peers.

A typical U.S. student spends 8,884 hours in school from kindergarten through 8th grade. That’s nearly 1,300 hours—more than a full school year—above the OECD average. In higher education, U.S. students also take slightly longer on average to complete a bachelor’s degree than their international peers.

But young children are much less likely to participate in preschool in the United States than in the typical OECD country, the report shows. While 77 percent of 3-year-olds and 88 percent of 4-year-olds in participating countries were enrolled in preschool on average, in the United States, the preschool enrollment share is 35 percentage points lower for 3-year olds and 22 percentage points lower for 4-year-olds.

U.S. teachers are asked to work 2,000 hours on average. That’s 400 hours longer than the OECD average, and ties with Chile and Switzerland for the longest statutory worktime among the countries. At all levels, U.S. teachers spend about half of their time in class, which amounts to more instructional time than the global average at every grade but preschool.

The data also show that U.S. teachers and principals are among the highest paid internationally. A typical new U.S. teacher earns about $40,000, about $7,000 more than the global average. A 15-year veteran teacher earns a little more than $62,000, compared to just under $46,000 on average across study nations. But the salary gap between U.S. principals and teachers is among the largest in the OECD.

In postsecondary education, the 2019 report notes that the percentage of U.S. young adults ages 25-34 who had earned some type of postsecondary degree rose 8 percentage points from 2008 to 2018, to 49 percent. That’s above the OECD average of 44 percent. U.S. students were more likely than the OECD average to earn “short-cycle” associate degrees or certificates, but only 11 percent of U.S. young adults earned a master’s or doctoral degree, compared to 15 percent in OECD countries.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 2019 edition of Education Week as U.S. Teachers and Students Are Tops for Time Spent in School


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