‘Turnaround’ school hit by teacher absenteeism

Teachers at at a low-performing Rhode Island high school were fired last year, then rehired when they agreed to reforms designed to turn Central Falls High around. But teacher absenteeism is high at the “turnaround” high school, reports the Providence Journal. “More than half of the high school’s 840 students didn’t receive a grade in one or more classes for the first quarter” because they missed so much instruction, reports the Journal.

Since the school year started Sept. 1, there has not been a single day when all of the 88 teachers at Central Falls High School have shown up for work.

On that first day, two teachers called in sick and a third took a personal day.

In addition, several teachers resigned after the start of the school year.  Administrators have struggled to hire replacements and substitutes.

Bitterness remains over the mass firing of all the school’s teachers in February, jobs that were eventually won back through a compromise agreement in May. In exchange for their jobs, the teachers agreed to a list of changes administrators said were necessary to turn around the school, which has among the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the state.

Some teachers resent the new requirements, which include tutoring and eating lunch with students each week, attending after-school training sessions and being observed by third-party evaluators.

Fourteen teachers were judged “unsatisfactory” by outside evaluators out of 71 who were observed.

Student absenteeism also is a problem at Central Falls High. Students and teachers complain that the school is disorderly and dangerous.

Officials blame the union contract, which gives teachers 15 paid sick days and two personal days a year: Teachers can accumulate up to 185 sick days.  Teachers with six years on the job are “entitled to 40 days of extended sick leave at full pay,” which goes up to 50 days after 15 years of service.  Six veteran teachers are out on stress-related medical leave; they’ve been replaced by long-term substitutes.

Teacher absenteeism has gotten worse each month, reports the Journal. In recent weeks, an average of 19 teachers a day out of 88 positions have been absent.

Nationwide, 5.3 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, writes Walt Gardner in his Ed Week blog. Stress pushes up the absentee rate.

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Comments

  1. WIthout doing further research to find out whether the sources gave this information: This entire post is meaningless without some comparable information for other professions; what level of absenteeism is considered normal in an efficiently running operation; what was the level of absenteeism prior to the “turaround”; what is the level of absenteeism in a comparable school in a nonunion state.

  2. Sounds to me like they should never have cut the deal with the union to rehire the teachers. If they are resentful about fulfilling obligations they agreed to as a condition of employment, they should go be resentful somewhere else. Can them all and hire people who actually want to help kids.

  3. Why do you assume the teachers are the problem? Maybe the admin. there is total asshats, given they were more than ready to fire every teacher on the staff.

  4. The charge that some CF teachers are behaving this way out of resentment for actions last year is the propaganda line advanced by the administrators. They are the only ones whose views have been solicited by a very negligent, bias press community. What teachers think, what they are experiencing, has not been fathomed. Worse, how administration has behaved has simply not been questioned at all. The trope is: everything is the teacher’s fault, and that’s the only story being reported. The very relevant question of whether or not the school’s administrators are competent, both of whom have never run a comprehensive high school before, has not been asked. The superintendent’s decision making during her four year tenure has not been questioned either. This is the third administration she has hired in three years. No one has asked what happened to her first reform initiative launched with great fanfare two years ago. No one has asked a question about the administrative operation of the school—is there a discipline code, have the students been informed of it, do the building administrators effectively communicate with their staff and their students, is scheduling done effectively, has attendance been taken effectively, can or can not a given student be located in the building at any given time, was it wise to dismiss the police resource officer, how smart is it, anyway, to attempt, first, to run any building on a “co-principal” basis, (especially since co-principalship was tried and abandoned by just the school year before last,) and second, to run the building with just two administrators period, when just 3 years ago, with 200 fewer students there were 4 administrators? And what of the Board of Regents? The RI Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education is the executive authority for the Central Falls schools, having taken them over 20 years ago. Not one member has ever fielded a question that called into account the decision making of that body. The list of un-asked questions goes on and on. As journalism collapses in the United States, citizens have wondered, “Can we maintain our democracy.” I believe the Central Falls story is evidence that we can’t. When “journalists” merely function as propaganda organs for the powerful, in this case the educational establishment of a state, what hope is there for the future? The Central Falls kids, they are screwed. So long as journalism does not function, so long as the public is not provided with information from all points of the compass so that responsible decisions can be made, their misery is just a tool for powerful to manipulate. Screw the kids. In the grand scheme of things, it pays.

  5. This story needs more information – were these teachers, perhaps, a little older than average? Sad, but true, many older teachers in difficult situations demonstrate stress’s effect by developing impaired immune systems.

    Also, older teachers have more chronic conditions; they wear out faster when the workload increases (like not having a lunch to re-charge, or extending the day for tutoring); they aren’t necessarily malingering, but may be genuinely ill/worn out/in need of a day off.

    There’s also a trick that many urban districts do – they have “open positions” – no teacher is hired, so a sub or a series of subs do the job. But, and here’s the rub – every day that a sub shows up is treated as an absence for statistical purposes. It makes the inner-city schools, where this trick is common, look bad on attendance.

  6. SIX teachers are out on stress-related medical leave? Holy crap. What is going on there? No wonder they’re having trouble hiring (bocomoj — doesn’t sound like those hordes of “people who want to help kids” are lining up at the doors, does it?).

  7. Bill Leonard says:

    C’mon, Lindaf, Teachers don’t show up on the first or second day of school because they’re tired out, or have immune system problems, or are more susceptible to illness — on the first or second day?

    Sounds to me like the place is simply an all-round snake-pit and no one wants to work there, even if forced to do so by economic circumstance.

  8. Show me a situation where you’re “performing” in front of hundreds of people each day, giving up your lunch, scrutinized (given the history, I’ll assume that the observations are on the critical side) and expected to put in extra hours after hours, on top of an already-heavy workload, and I’ll show you a stressed-out, burned out teacher.

    Ladies and gentlemen, martyrdom should NOT be a prerequisite for teaching.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Obviously nana has never been an actor, dancer, or professional musician.

    And martyrdom isn’t a prerequisite for teaching. Indeed, the martyr complex that some teachers have is part of the problem. You don’t teach for the children. You teach for yourself, because you want to do it.

  10. MIchael,

    If dancers had to choreograph fifteen original dances a week, and had to perform those dances for 7 hours a day while brickbats were thrown on stage, they’d be frazzled too.

  11. I think teacher absenteeism definitely needs to be compared from school to school. We also need to ask what happens when the regular teacher is not there. Were adequate lesson plans left? If so, were they used. Or do we just assume because a sub is there, not much will happen. My daughter had a teacher that routinely missed Mondays and Fridays.

    The amount of random absence that seems to be common in schools would not be tolerated where I work.

    I work around sick people daily….still expected to show up for work, impaired immune system or not.

  12. Obviously Michael is prone to making assumptions about people.

    Teaching is a job. I do it because I want to help children, of course, but please don’t demand that burnout and exhaustion be part of the bargain. Is that what you’re implying? Do you really think that teachers should be some kind of above-the-fray group of people who (cue the hallelujah chorus) sacrifice for the good of the world? Do you demand that of your accountant, social worker, yourself?

    And are you implying that dancing, acting, or working as a professional musician are analagous to teaching? Because I have danced professionally, and I can tell you with utmost confidence that dancing was far, far easier. I got to work with a coach, one-on-one. I put in grueling hours, yes, but that was not performing. It was practice. I could rehearse angles and moves until they were perfect. I received constant, helpful feedback.

    Let me reiterate: I rehearsed ONE choreography until it was perfect. And I received constant, helpful feedback. Neither of these conditions exist in teaching.

    I don’t think the so-called “martyr complex” is the problem as much as a public that can’t agree on the what, how or whys of public schools. Heap a pile of conflicting expectations, mismanaged funding along with a relentless onslaught of at-times-vicious criticism onto your average teacher’s plate and then ask him/her to work extra hours at a place like Providence High? What does your common sense tell you will happen?

  13. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Nana asketh:

    Do you really think that teachers should be some kind of above-the-fray group of people who (cue the hallelujah chorus) sacrifice for the good of the world? Do you demand that of your accountant, social worker, yourself?

    No.

    In fact, if you read what I said, I actually say the exact opposite. You should teach for yourself. You should go into the classroom because YOU want to, not because you’re doing some favor for a bunch of kids. You should help the kids be better than what they are because YOU want to, because it makes YOU feel good. If it ever becomes primarily about your students rather than about you, you need to stop and do something else.

    Teaching is a profession. It isn’t a charity. The teacher should not ever feel like he or she needs to sacrifice anything, and if something is ever given up, it shouldn’t be a sacrifice. It should be a gift, freely given and without expectation of reward.

    Those who are in it “for the children” need to grow up.

    Now, Nana also saith:

    And are you implying that dancing, acting, or working as a professional musician are analagous to teaching? Because I have danced professionally, and I can tell you with utmost confidence that dancing was far, far easier. I got to work with a coach, one-on-one. I put in grueling hours, yes, but that was not performing. It was practice. I could rehearse angles and moves until they were perfect. I received constant, helpful feedback.

    Let me reiterate: I rehearsed ONE choreography until it was perfect. And I received constant, helpful feedback. Neither of these conditions exist in teaching.

    Ah, but you’re changing your assertions on me. I can’t be expected to hit a moving target. Here’s what you said originally:

    Show me a situation where you’re “performing” in front of hundreds of people each day,

    Check. Dancers and actors do this all the time.

    …giving up your lunch,

    Check. Five minutes to throw down the sandwich then back to blocking.

    …scrutinized (given the history, I’ll assume that the observations are on the critical side)

    Check. Because directors aren’t exactly known for being full of constant, effusive praise.

    …and expected to put in extra hours after hours,

    Check.

    …on top of an already-heavy workload, and I’ll show you a stressed-out, burned out teacher.

    Of course, you might also show me a stressed-out, ambitious young actor or dancer trying to make it onto Broadway. The fact that you didn’t recognize that the conditions you were listing were applicable to performance professions seems to me a perfectly good basis for assuming that you had no idea what you were talking about as far as those professions were concerned.

    I had no idea that what you were actually in the dark about was what you wrote. And I certainly can’t be held responsible for not realizing that you had in your head a substantial list of additional conditions, including a lack of rehearsal time and the lack of an ability to focus on a single task.

    So I apologize (in the loosest sense) for making what apparently is an incorrect assumption about you. But I think the assumption entirely reasonable under the circumstances.

  14. I have learned that 197 of the kids who did not get grades were accounted for by the resignation of one single teacher, a reading specialist. Think about that. A reading specialist given a class load of 197 students. Kids who need help reading. One hundred and ninety seven of them. One teacher. This is one of the many nitty-gritty details of the story that are not being reported. If this fact were out, it would question the competence of the administration. But the administration is, ultimately, the RI Board of Regents. They hire the superintendent and a member of their group is chairwoman of the Central Falls School Committee, called the Board of Trustees. But she has never been asked about the reading teacher with 197 kids. (Maybe they nick-named that teacher “Shoe” as in the Old Lady Who Lived In.) Now, that teacher, very wisely, since reading specialists are in demand everywhere, resigned. One who have loved to be a fly on the wall when she announced her intention to the “Co-principals.” Briefly, a month or so ago, a replacement was hired. She lasted one week. Of course, the press didn’t interview her either. And, mind you, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots and lots more nitty-gritty detail questions to ask of the school’s administration from the Board of Regents on down. But who is going to ask them?

  15. Another reason I’m skeptical about this story, the claim a teacher took a personal day on the first day of school.

    I’ve worked for several districts, and personal days require approval. Every district I’ve worked for has restrictions, including the first and last days of school, and the last days before a holiday.

  16. Roger Sweeny says:

    For what it’s worth, in my district, we have 3 personal days for which we need give no reason and which have to be granted. This was something bargained for several contracts ago. Of course, one is expected to use them responsibly but the contract specifies that there are no consequences if you don’t.

  17. Central Falls isn’t in Providence, by the way.

  18. Some of you people need to leave the profession immediately. Should you put your career before your own family or before your personal relationships? No. Should you put the students before yourself? Absolutely. It’s called selflessness. The students lives are literally in your hands.

  19. Well, I suppose their lives are “literally in my hands” in that I don’t tend to be homicidal most days. (I’m seeing images of squishy little souls ala a Murakami novel.) I see my students 4 hours per week (actually 55 minutes, but let’s round up). The school year is 32 weeks. So, out of their ENTIRE lifetimes, I may see them, at most, barring assemblies, absences, etc., 128 hours. Roughly three standard work weeks.

    It took Jesus three years to whip his apostles into shape. The Kingdom of Heaven is a slightly loftier goal than the AP exam, but WHATEV, dude. Sheesh.

  20. Thanks for the correction, Jeff. I’ve fixed it.

  21. Should you put your career before your own family or before your personal relationships? No. Should you put the students before yourself? Absolutely. It’s called selflessness. The students lives are literally in your hands.

    If I put my personal relationships or family before my career, am I not putting myself before my students since family and personal relationships benefit me but not the students? If I take a day off to recharge my mental and physical energy, am I putting myself before my students, or should I just keep chugging away on half-empty in the land of mediocrity? You sound like my principal, who likes to say things such as, “We’re in the business of saving lives” or “If they’re not learning it, you’re not teaching it.” Lordy!

  22. @Kate: while I will acknowledge that a teacher who routinely misses Mondays & Fridays is a problem (and their supervisor, i.e., their principal should talk to them about it & take further disciplinary action if necessary), if I miss a day because I’m sick, I think it’s better to stay home than to spread germs to a 130+ students or to only 30 students if I taught elementary.

    Is it better for me to come to work sick & spread germs? is that what you are saying

  23. For what it’s worth, in my district, we have 3 personal days for which we need give no reason and which have to be granted. This was something bargained for several contracts ago. Of course, one is expected to use them responsibly but the contract specifies that there are no consequences if you don’t.

  24. Where is this “conversation” going? The story reported is the extraordinary absenteeism at Central Falls High School. The unreported story is how the working conditions attributable directly to administration contribute to the problem. You people who think the problem is laziness, would you attempt to stick to the facts of the situation? Do you, in rare moments of sanity, think that the assignment of 197 special needs students to a single teacher is an ordinary condition of work in American schools? How would you feel if one of your children were one of the 197? You wouldn’t protest that? There would not even be mention of the fact in media of your comfortable little suburb? Get real! This back and forth about “self sacrifice” is nonsense. The students and teachers of Central Falls, I assure you, are living, breathing human beings. They are not philosophical abstractions.

  25. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Canonchet asketh:

    Where is this “conversation” going? The story reported is the extraordinary absenteeism at Central Falls High School. The unreported story is how the working conditions attributable directly to administration contribute to the problem.

    It’s a fair question, and I’ll try to answer it.

    The martyrdom line of discussion started when Nana said, “Ladies and gentlemen, martyrdom should NOT be a prerequisite for teaching.”

    I thought this was a perfectly relevant and appropriate comment. What I think she was trying to say is that there are conditions which teachers should not have to put up with, that they should not have to go above and beyond what their prescribed duties are, and that they should not have to give more of themselves than is reasonable (whatever amount that is) in the course of their charge.

    So then I agreed with her: we both think that teachers should not martyr themselves. I also added that I thought many teachers were psychologically constructed so that they sought out opportunities to martyr themselves “for the children”, and that this was at least a small part of the legion of problems facing public education.

    Nana seems to have initially interpreted what I wrote in a manner quite out of line with my intent in writing it (no doubt due to my inability to clearly express myself; as I tell my students: “Everybody’s writing sucks”). So I explained myself.

    That seemed to be enough of an explanation for her, or she grew weary of the whole affair, or she’s spending Christmas with her family or whatnot.

    But then Bocomoj decided that I had no business being an educator — something my students probably disagree with, but he’s entitled to express that opinion. But he did so in a very confusing way, and some people called him on that.

    So that’s the answer to your question: this conversation is going the way conversations go, for one thing. And for another, it’s “going” towards abstract issues precisely because we internet discussion commenters don’t always have a sufficient base of factual knowledge for discussing the extremely particular facts of a Rhode Island school.

    So to sum up: part of the discussion is heading off towards discussion of teachers’ martyr complexes because, as Nana correctly indicated, teachers should not be expected to be superhuman, and they shouldn’t have to put up with unreasonable expectations. The fact that so many do put up with, and even impose on themselves, unreasonable expectations is part of the reason that the public tends to walk all over them. Which is part of the reason things get really bad. Which may be responsible for the absenteeism in question.

    Finally, a short reply to the criticism in the middle and latter parts of your post. Laziness may be quite relevant to the story, and you should be wary of telling others to “attempt to stick to the facts of the situation.” We don’t know all the facts, and even if you do, we would be silly to accept your version of the facts as the sum total of all relevant information for the situation. Frankly I think that what you say is probably true, because I suspect that you’re a teacher at that school, or perhaps one of the parents of a special ed student at that school. Your posts have the ring of genuine sincerity to them. So no doubt you’ve access to good information.

    But that is also a reason for taking your framing of it with a grain of salt.

    I could of course be easily wrong: you could be repeating something from a news source that you didn’t cite, or you could be making things up from whole cloth, etc. I really have no idea: just my best judgments. But typically, a person’s access to good information on a specific, politically charged topic like how a single school is facing a particular problem, tends to be inversely correlated with his or her objectivity. That’s why we rely on journalists (though perhaps this is a mistake) and academics. But journalists are notorious for not getting all of the facts, and academics are notorious for abstracting. Why do people abstract? Because universal rules and tendencies are useful for making judgments in the absence of particular facts. In fact, in many ways, making judgments from abstraction and universalization is a better way of living., though sensitivity to what particular facts are relevant for the application of universal principles is always important.

    I hope you’ll keep that in mind the next time you feel the need to criticize people for their tendency to reduce things to principles. Perhaps discussions too often abstract to too few principles, or to principles not finely enough gradated to be truly useful. But it’s how people reason, because to count every atom in every molecule of every object we meet in order to claim to understand it would be lunacy.

  26. Well spoken, well reasoned, Lopez. I appreciate your views.