More than 28 percent of teachers in traditional public schools — but only 10 percent of charter teachers — miss 11 or more days of teaching per year, according to Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, which is based on federal data.
It adds up to a billion hours of wasted class time, estimates researcher David Griffith. “A ten-day increase in teacher absenteeism is associated with the loss of about six to 10 days of learning in English language arts and about 15 to 25 days of learning in math,” he writes. “In other words, kids learn almost nothing—and possibly less than nothing—when their teacher of record isn’t there.”
Among his suggestions for improving attendance are: reduce paid sick and personal leave days, provide maternity leave and disability insurance instead of letting teachers “carry over” unused sick days from one year to the next, hire substitute teachers instead of asking full-time teachers to “cover” an additional class and include teacher chronic absenteeism as a non-academic indicator of school quality.
The median age for a teacher is 41, which means maternity leave doesn’t explain most teacher absenteeism, adds Griffith. “The teacher chronic absenteeism rate varies dramatically depending on which district or state you’re looking at. For example, the rate is 16 percent in Utah and 75 percent in Hawaii.” In addition, “teachers in schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority kids are only marginally more likely to be chronically absent.”
There’s no substitute for a teacher, wrote June Kronholz in 2013. Her son subbed for a year in a college town where “an astonishing 47 percent of the school district’s 721 teachers were absent more than 10 days during the school year, according to data the district reported to the U.S. Department of Education for a 2009–10 study. That number rose to 61 percent in an elementary school with one of the district’s highest percentages of black, Hispanic, and low-income children.”