Teaching Profession What the Research Says

U.S. Teachers Work More Hours Than Their Global Peers. Other Countries Are Catching Up

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 04, 2022 3 min read
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As districts across the country look for ways to recruit and retain more teachers, international data for the 2021-22 school year suggest looking to other countries for ideas on pay and supports.

In its new Education at a Glance 2022 data release, the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation finds U.S. teachers at most grades spend more time working on average than their colleagues in other countries. However, elementary and secondary teachers globally have seen their workloads tick up closer to those of their American peers since the pandemic.

For example, U.S. elementary school teachers’ work hours haven’t changed much since 2019, but at more than 1,000 a year on average, American educators work more than 200 more hours than their peers worldwide. U.S. elementary and high school teachers work more hours than those in any OECD country but Costa Rica, and middle school teachers work more hours than their peers everywhere but Costa Rica and Mexico.

The report also found about half of OECD countries changed their laws around instruction to make it easier for students and teachers to use virtual learning, and the majority have increased teacher training for both remote instruction and technology use in the classroom.

“Probably we have seen more technological change in schools in the last two years than in the last 20 years before,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the secretary-general, in a briefing on the data earlier this week. As a result, teachers now spend more of their work time in direct instruction, and countries are dedicating more time to training teachers in how to use technology in their classrooms.

“Instruction time has increased, and it’s become much more targeted to ensuring that students do have opportunities to catch up,” Schleicher said. “You can see very clearly that enhanced provision of digital training for students is either in planning or in place. You can see also enhanced provision of in-service digital training to teachers.”

“That has been one of the main lessons: You can have great technology, but if it’s not effectively integrated in the pedagogical practice, it’s of limited use,” he said.

The United States does not require specific teacher professional development supports at the federal level, but OECD found 17 countries fully pay the cost of all required teacher professional development; six countries also pay for optional teacher training. Since the pandemic, the OECD found more countries also have begun to require additional supports for teacher well-being.

“Most countries actually are looking very carefully at the impact of the pandemic and what they can do,” Schleicher said. “Virtually every country that we have surveyed puts an emphasis on looking at the well-being of teachers and the effectiveness of the distance learning arrangements that countries put in place during the pandemic.”

Changing teacher demographics

Globally, teacher and principal salaries tend to increase with their level of education, but across countries that participated in the survey, preschool, elementary, and secondary teachers earned 4 percent to 14 percent lower salaries than other college-educated workers. On average across grade spans, teachers in OECD countries earned about 90 percent of what similarly educated, adult full-time workers in their countries made, taking into account salaries and bonuses. In the United States, however, teachers on average made half of what similarly educated peers made in other fields.

By contrast, elementary and secondary principals earned on average 30 percent higher salaries than the average college-educated workers. (The OECD did not have average salary data for principals weighted to account for specific levels of higher education, such as master’s degrees, that school leaders in some school systems are required to have.) In the United States, school leaders earned 1.1 times as much as workers with college degrees generally, but 80 percent of that of similarly educated peers in other fields.

While COVID-19 disproportionately affected older school staff, the OECD found it has not changed the overall share of teaching staff over 40, which has remained at 40 percent on average worldwide among OECD countries since 2015.

The OECD tracks teacher and other national education data in 38 member countries, as well as of Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.


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