Teacher absences hurt learning, budgets

Absentee teachers are hurting students’ learning and district budgets, according to a Center for American Progress report, Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement. Nearly 40 percent of teachers missed more than 10 days of school in 2009-10. Districts spent at least $4 billion to hire subs.

“Every 10 absences lowers average mathematics achievement equivalent to the difference between having a novice teacher and one with a bit more experience,” Raegen Miller, the report’s author, writes, citing a 2008 study.

Teachers who work in high-poverty and high-minority schools are absent more often, CAP reports.“It’s plausible that achievement gaps can be attributed, in part, to a teacher attendance gap,” writes Miller.

In New Jersey’s Camden City Public Schools, a district that has struggled with poverty and poor test scores, up to 40 percent of teachers are absent on any given school day, a figure that has forced the district to hire a private substitute-teacher agency to help ensure there’s an adult in each classroom.

Not surprisingly, the more paid sick leave teachers get, the more they use. The report recommends giving teachers at least seven paid sick days per year, but limiting excused absences and using incentives to discourage “frivolous” use of paid leave.