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Charts: Who Pays Teachers Most For their Time?

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This chart from the futurejournalismproject tries to capture how much teachers work in various countires and how much they're paid.  I'm sure there are issues with the calculations or presentation, but perhaps not entirely disqualifying ones. What's the chart get wrong or right?



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Two things jump out: "hours primary school teachers spend working" probably means contact hours, time spent in front of a class", which is not the same as hours spent working: preparing for class, meeting with parents and other teachers, and professional development time also constitute hours spent working, perhaps in a more personally satisfying way. Second, the statistic on the right is average pay compared with per capita GDP, not average pay period. The U.S., a high payer (higher than all but Luxembourg), looks bad here because we pay our doctors, lawyers, business leaders, and so on so much, not because we pay our teachers little. So these statistics appear to have been manipulated to make a rhetorical point, and appear misleading.

Just curious, how would you suggest comparing salaries across countries? I don't know that it is misleading since each of those teachers must spend their salary within the economy where their labor is valued relative to the rest of the population. What does it mean that we pay our teachers so much while they rank relatively low on the wage scale of our country? And I am guessing that adding in time worked away from the classroom would not improve the US's standing on this chart.

Bruce, the amount of non-contact time should increase proportional to the contact hours. In the United States, not only are the days long, but also the school year is much longer than other countries. (Germany, for example, has only a 1/2 day of instruction, but no one is bemoaning their students' lack of competitiveness in the global market). Secondly, we also pay our janitors, secretaries, cab drivers and other lower income brackets far less than many other countries, so your argument that comparing teaching wages to per capita GDP is very weak. Your claim that this is somehow "data manipulation" is a sad attempt to undermine empirical evidence that compared to peer countries, we do not value and compensate our teachers well.

I don't think it's so much a problem with the data (though using some kind of purchasing power parity would probably be best instead of GDP). But it's not clear what the point of the chart is. Even if you buy the numbers, and accept that the USA is fairly low on the list, it's not like it's down there with Sudan and Zimbabwe. The USA is in line with France and Italy, and better than Iceland and Norway. These are pretty mainstream places with good education systems.

But maybe it also speaks to the difficulty of schools bringing in extra help? Do those other places allow more volunteer help in schools to take off some of the burden?

In the end, I think the charge creates many more questions than answers, and to use it to prove anything would be pretty premature. As the basis of further research, certainly.

I think you're off the mark, Jon. The chart shows the relative pay of teachers within the society that they work. Yes, we're not far behind France or Italy, and ahead of Iceland, and Norway, but those countries all have much more robust government social services, like healthcare and retirement, so the chart probably overstates our position as it is only reflecting pay. And, although we're not Zimbabwe or Sudan, is that really what we want to be? Just ahead of the countries that are almost in civil war? I don't think anyone disallows volunteers in schools so that's not really the point. The point is, we rank fairly high in the amount of time we expect teachers to commit and we rank fairly low on how we pay them. There may be some questions, but I think it lays to rest any argument that we pay teachers too much for too little work relative to other countries.

fordham finance director suggests several problems with the calculations being used


You're wrong on the evidence, Susan. Contact time is absolutely not proportional to non-contact time: these data are normally expressed as ratios, with the normal ratio for an American public school teacher above 80%, vs. 60% common in other countries: the lengths of the teachers' working days are similar, but U.S. teachers spend far more of that time in front of students (at least in secondary schools). Our school year is not long: at 180 days (recently being cut in some states due to budget problems), it's one of the shortest in the OECD, compared to over 200 in east Asia. Another mistake: these comparisons are usually made with other similarly educated professionals within the society, so the comparisons with the janitors and others you mention are not made in these OECD reports. In terms of purchasing power parity, that is, how much food and so on you can buy in your local markets with your paycheck, American teachers are much more highly paid than the average, although Rebecca is correct in pointing out the relative paucity in social services in the United States compared with other countries, which American teachers must therefore pay for, and as I stated, our lawyers, doctors, and business executives are MUCH more highly paid than in other countries, which makes American teachers look relatively poorly paid in our local labor market. But I don't understand "sad attempt"; what are you asserting that I am attempting to do, other than to point out problems with the chart, which is what Alexander asked for?

Salaries should be based on results, not necessarily time spent working. South Korea has some of the highest primary school education results (they are first in the world according to the OECD)... the US does not (14th per the OECD). Maybe we need better teachers.

Why do teachers in the USA get paid so little (not to mention Norway who is so much richer). The USA always boasts about having the best teachers in the world, but I guess they don't. Either that or no one values teachers there.

I thought teachers here in the UK had it hard.

This is a shame for the US really. So many hours for such poor results. A better chart would compare the salaries spent to academic results. Probably blow a few of minds, and outrage many US taxpayers.

Wonder if this chart includes privates schools?

Given the US is the world's only superpower, this doesn't make much of a case for the importance of paying teachers more...

Also, it makes the US look like better managers (more work for less money)...

Bruce, are you saying that Korea, Germany and all the other developed nations don't pay their doctors, lawyers and business leaders significantly less than we do in America? You're argument might make sense if the chart was comparing America to Botswana, but dividing salary by GDP per capita is appropriate to do here.

So where is the column for student learning? U.S. teachers' pay has gone up over the last decade or two, yet student achievement has lagged behind.

I suspect the chart is made of whole cloth to be yet another excuse for U.S. teachers to whine about being underpaid.

Matt, I'm arguing that, when comparing the ratio of, say, an American doctor's salary to an American teacher's with the ratio between a Finnish doctor's salary and a Finnish teacher's, the American teacher looks underpaid; but when comparing the American teacher's personal purchasing power with that of the Finnish teacher, the American looks comparatively well off. This is important because talented young Americans may choose between becoming doctors and teachers, and relevant because the fact that my fellow Americans are making a better living than my wife's fellow Koreans (we've taught in both countries) doesn't mean Korean teachers are better paid than American teachers; they're worse paid.

@Bruce - I'm not sure that the this states whether nominal or PPP GDP figures are used for the calculation. I don't see how much a doctor is paid, has much correlation to the this. GDP is the size of the a domestic economy and not necessarily the wages paid in that economy.

Even if there weren't huge problems with the validity of achievement tests as a measurement of student learning, the suggestion that teachers getting worse explains poor achievement data is as specious as it is overly simplistic. Try out the working conditions and job expectations yourselves and then try saying with a straight face that teachers aren't working miracles just to do as well as they do.

True, Dan. Remember, I was only addressing Alexander's request to look for some anomalies with the chart; I don't expect it or any single sheet of paper to really do justice to the complexities of these issues.

so you can add Iceland, but you can't add Canada??? no love for your friends to the north???

I second that, we're having a crisis in education in Canada, it would be really nice to see our numbers. Seriously, LUXEMBOURG?

Teachers in Hungary have a relatively low number of contact hours (22 a week, about 185 teaching days per year) but they are responsible for paperwork that are done by clerks in most western countries, and they also work without classroom assistants or special needs student support. An average school with 600 or so primary students would have only 3 or 4 office staff, and zero classroom assistants, counselors, psychologists or other professional support. All this adds significantly to the overall workload. Of course statistics like this are often shoved to their faces when they are denied yet another pay rise - salaries are the same as 10 years ago, only just reaching the minimum wage guaranteed by law.

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