Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

How much time spent teaching?

A couple of weeks back I wrote about international comparisons of the number of hours that teachers spend actually teaching. The numbers I presented showed that American teachers put in more hours than their counterparts. So I was surprised to see an NCTQ report linking to a study don’t teach all that many more hours.

“The Mismeasure of Teaching Time,” by Samuel Abrams, takes an extraordinarily detailed look at how OECD data on teacher hours is collected in the United States and how the collection method differs from that used in comparison countries. Abrams makes a convincing case that most of the apparent difference is due the difference in data collection–it mostly ain’t real.

Here’s a little graph showing in percentage terms how many more hours U.S. teachers (lower secondary) are actually teaching. The left bar is the standard OECD number that Abrams provides and the middle bar is Abrams’ corrected estimate.

Abrams comparison

Basically, Abrams finds that the “myth number” that American teachers spend 65 percent more time teaching than do their counterparts should really only be 14 percent.

The thing is, the numbers I reported from TALIS (right bar) use a completely different survey technique than do the “myth numbers.” So nearly as I can tell, TALIS data aren’t subject to any of the problems that Abrams finds. (Abrams also points out that TALIS numbers are likely to be better, although still imperfect.) My guess is that the truth is somewhere between the myth and the Abrams’ findings.

I have a suspicion that arguments about the number of hours spent teaching is less about setting policy than it is about being “pro-teacher” or “anti-teacher.” While it’s obviously better to get these sort of facts right, comparisons of the hours spent teaching strike me as far less important than comparisons of pay.

Abrams sums it up nicely:

This myth has precluded legitimate comparative analysis of staffing practices….Finally, this myth has overshadowed the critical issue of inferior pay of U.S. teachers in comparison to that of their OECD counterparts.

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