Last Updated:October 23 @ 09:49 pm

Teacher absentee rate hurting students

By USA Today

New research suggests that teacher absenteeism is becoming problematic in U.S. public schools, as about one in three teachers miss more than 10 days of school each year. The nation's improving economic picture may also worsen absenteeism as teachers' fears ease that they'll lose their job over taking too many sick days, researchers say.

First-ever figures from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, compiled in 2012, show that in some states, nearly half of teachers miss more than 10 days in a typical 180-day school year.

Schools serving larger proportions of African-American and Latino students are "disproportionately exposed to teacher absence," notes researcher Raegen Miller, who studied the federal survey data for the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank.

Miller noted that providing substitutes for all of those absent teachers costs schools at least $4 billion a year -- about 1% of schools' budgets. Absenteeism also lowers student achievement: A 2007 study by Duke University researchers estimated that for every 10 teacher absences, math achievement dropped by the same degree as if a school had replaced an experienced teacher with a novice one.

"Everybody basically accepts (that) teachers are the most important school-based resource affecting student achievement," said Miller, now at Teach For America. "Well, if that's true, we ought to be paying a lot more attention to the students' actual exposure to teachers."

Another researcher, Geoffrey Smith of Utah State University, said the economic downturn has actually had a positive effect on teacher absenteeism. Teachers, fearful of being fired over too many sick days, took fewer, he said. "Teachers didn't take any personal time because they didn't want to be let go," he said.

And cash-strapped school districts cut down on teacher training, pulling fewer teachers out of the class each week. The net effect, Smith said, was an uptick in the number of days that teachers stood in front of the class.

Both researchers said that's likely to change as the USA emerges from recession. Recent small-scale surveys from Smith show that the percentage of school districts with 10% or more teachers absent on a given day rose from 11.6% in 2010 to 25.5% in 2012.

School districts generally agree to personal leave benefits during contract negotiations with teachers' unions, and few superintendents are willing to risk bruising political battles over cutting teacher benefits, said Kate Walsh of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Teacher Quality.

"I don't see them taking this on," she said, adding that most superintendents have many more contentious issues to tackle. "They'll lose their jobs over trying to reduce (teacher) leave five days."

The Duke researchers have suggested paying teachers $400 more per year but docking them $50 for each sick day they use.

Walsh said superintendents should push to change school culture, persuading teachers to focus more on staying in school unless they're genuinely ill or experiencing an emergency.

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(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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8 Comments

  1. rwjacksrComment by rwjacksr
    February 14, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

    That is roughly 1 day a month, if their students missed 10 days in 1 year they would not pass that grade.

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    • bowler1hatComment by bowler1hat
      February 15, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

      Considering the school breaks, teacher’s days and such that’s closer to 2 days per month. Most of the people I know have not taken more than 10 days in 10-15 years, but I never had the misfortune to work for a union either!

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  2. FreeDameComment by FreeDame
    February 14, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

    “Improving economic picture”? What planet are you living on? Oh wait, USA Today, spouting the Official Party Line.

    Public school teachers are proving once again that their claim that “it’s all about the kids” is horse-manure.

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  3. wedeyComment by wedey
    February 14, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

    This person sounds like Obama, improving economic situation.
    I would rally love to know how it is improving.

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    • bowler1hatComment by bowler1hat
      February 15, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

      Its improving because Obama says so. The evidence is oddly enough is filed with Obama’s college records!

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  4. CharlieComment by vietnamvet
    February 14, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

    If teachers are becoming more confident that they won’t lose their jobs for taking too many sick days … it’s time to fire some teacher for taking too many sick days.

    Of course, it may first be necessary to put some serious hurt on some teacher’s unions …

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    • bowler1hatComment by bowler1hat
      February 15, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

      The records of these unions has two great values. First, they could provide heat for those who can burn paper for heat this winter. Second, they can provide a lot of evidence in regard to racketeering and other activities to extort votes from governments to support more union benefits at the expense of its children and their future!

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  5. pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
    February 15, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    The teachers at my daughter’s high school are almost all coaches and are constantly absent for games. She has had a lot of trouble with math especially since they have substitutes so much of the time.

    Of course coaches missing their academic classes for games is not considered an absence even though a substitute is required to fill the vacancy.

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