Few matters of international education policy have achieved as much consensus as the claim that teachers in U.S. public schools spend nearly twice as much time leading classes as their counterparts in such high-performing nations as Finland, Japan, and many other nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Yet this claim is far from true.
Teachers in U.S. public schools work hard, for relatively low pay, and under increasingly stressful conditions because of federally mandated high-stakes tests tying assessment of teachers to student performance on these tests.1 But they do not, as reported in detailed tables published by the OECD every year since 2000, spend so much more time instructing students than teachers in other OECD nations.2 Through regular repetition by academics and journalists, this misinformation has become conventional wisdom.
In reality, U.S. primary teachers spend about 12 percent more time leading classes than their OECD counterparts, not 50 percent; U.S. lower-secondary teachers spend about 14 percent more time, not 65 percent; and U.S. upper-secondary teachers spend about 11 percent more time, not 73 percent. In the case of Finland and Japan, in particular, the alleged differences, as will be explained, reach 110 percent.