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How Many Hours do Public School Teachers Really Work?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Do teachers work dramatically longer hours than other white collar professionals? No.

One of the (many) responses that Jason Richwine and I have heard regarding our paper showing that public school teachers are overpaid is that we underestimate the hours that teachers actually work. We regularly receive emails detailing the long hours teachers put in on the job. If so, our study—which found that teachers receive salaries roughly on par with other professionals, but with far more generous benefits—could be in error.

For instance, Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University claimed that we generated our conclusions only “by underestimating the actual hours that teachers work—using ‘contract hours’ rather than the 50-plus hours a week teachers actually spend preparing for classes, grading papers, and communicating with students and parents outside of school hours.”

Teachers themselves report a mean work week of 43.7 hours, versus 44.8 hours for non-teachers with a college degree.

Had Darling-Hammond actually read our report before commenting on it, she would know that we relied on teachers’ own reports of the hours they work, recorded in the Census Bureau’s Current Population (CPS) survey, not their shorter contract hours. Teachers themselves report a mean work week of 43.7 hours, versus 44.8 hours for non-teachers with a college degree. Some teachers work more, some less, but overall their hours aren’t dramatically different than other professionals. And if a teacher did report that he or she worked 60 hours per week, as many claim to, we counted it.

Some might counter that people responding to the CPS excluded work time at home, which is more predominant among teachers. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) took an even more detailed look into teacher hours using what is called a time-use survey, in which individuals create detailed logs of what they are doing at any given time of the day. As BLS noted,

Teachers’ work patterns differ from those of many other professionals. In addition to teaching, they grade assignments, develop lesson plans, and perform other tasks in which they have some flexibility in determining when and where they work. Teachers’ work schedules, too, are unique in that they often are tied to a traditional school year, with an extended break in the summer. This visual essay uses data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to examine how much teachers work, where they work, when they work, and how their work patterns compare with those of other professionals.

Teachers do, in fact, put in more work time at home than other professionals and were more likely to work on weekends.

But do they work longer hours overall? According to BLS, the answer is essentially no. The average work week for teachers seems to be around 40 hours, similar to what teachers themselves report to the Census Bureau.

Do some teachers work longer hours? Sure—and when they do, our study accounts for it. But do teachers as a profession work dramatically longer hours than other white collar professions? It doesn’t seem so.

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

FURTHER READING: Biggs also writes “Cadillac Pay in the Land of Lincoln,” “How Much Does the Federal Government Really Spend?” “From Ponzi to Perry: The Truth about Social Security,” “Eight Reasons Public School Teachers Aren't Underpaid,” and “Are Public School Teachers Underpaid?

Image by Darren Wamboldt | Bergman Group

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