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
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Rising Tensions From Israel-Hamas War Are Seeping Into Schools
As effects of the war reverberate in school communities, schools have federal responsibilities to create discrimination-free environments.
5 min read
People gather in Pliny Park in Brattleboro, Vt., for a vigil, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, for the three Palestinian-American students who were shot while walking near the University of Vermont campus in Burlington, Vt., Saturday, Nov. 25. The three students were being treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and one faces a long recovery because of a spinal injury, a family member said.
People gather in Pliny Park in Brattleboro, Vt., for a vigil, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, for the three Palestinian-American students who were shot while walking near the University of Vermont campus in Burlington, Vt., Saturday, Nov. 25. Tensions over the Israel-Hamas war are playing out in schools and colleges across the country, including some K-12 schools.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP
School & District Management The Missed Opportunity for Public Schools and Climate Change
More cities are creating climate action plans, but schools are often left out of the equation.
4 min read
Global warming illustration, environment pollution, global warming heating impact concept. Change climate concept.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management 13 States Bar School Board Members From Getting Paid. Here's Where It's Allowed (Map)
There are more calls to increase school board members' pay, or to allow them to be paid at all.
Two professional adults, with a money symbol.
School & District Management Opinion Bad Sleep Is a Problem for Principals. Here’s What to Do About It
Our new study highlights the connection between stress and sleep among school leaders, write three researchers.
Eleanor Su-Keene, David E. DeMatthews & Alex Keene
5 min read
Stylized illustration of an alarm clock over a background which is split in half, with one half being nighttime and one half being daytime.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva