While Attendance Awareness Month is focused on student absenteeism, a new study released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) reveals poor teacher attendance can also be a significant challenge. It sheds light on how often teachers are missing school and why.
Although this study was not able to examine whether poor teacher attendance led to higher levels of chronic absence among students, it does points out prior research showing that teacher absenteeism can affect student achievement when teachers miss as few as 10 days a year.
Roll Call: The Importance of Teacher Attendance also calls for developing policies and practices that will reduce absences among the instructional staff. And it suggests creating a school climate where attendance is valued by students and teachers, alike. The report states:
“Given the time and attention spent on school programs, new curriculum and strategies to strengthen teacher quality, we may be overlooking one of the most basic, solvable and cost effective reasons why schools may fail to make educational progress. We owe it to our children to have the most effective policies and practices to make sure that teachers are present when the roll is called.”
NTCQ researchers analyzed absenteeism data for 234,000 teachers in 40 metropolitan school districts in the 2012-13 school year. The study didn’t count long-term absences for maternity leave or serious illness. But it did count days missed to professional development, reasoning that administrators should evaluate whether career training should be offered while school is in session.
Among the findings:
The teachers in the 40 districts had an average attendance rate of 94 percent and missed an average of 11 days a year. On average, school districts allow teachers to take 13 absences annually.
16 percent of teachers had excellent attendance, missing three days or fewer. The same percentage were chronically absent, missing 18 or more days.
The days missed by chronically absent teachers accounted for a third of all absences recorded.
The districts collectively spent $424 million on substitute teachers or an average of $1,800 for each teacher.
Unlike past research, the report found no correlation between teacher absenteeism and the poverty level at the school.
The report also looks at various strategies that school districts use to promote teacher attendance, such as paying teachers for unused leave, rewarding them with extra time off, restricting leave on specific dates and considering attendance as a metric in teacher evaluations. None of these common incentives were found to have significant impact on attendance rates. The researchers recommend that union and district leaders explore more effective ways to support and improve school attendance:
Investing in a system that keeps effective teachers in the classroom should be a priority for school leaders and policymakers. A key part of that effort is creating a school climate in which consistent teacher attendance is the norm. That said, teachers have demanding, stressful jobs that often include long hours outside the normal school day. Their job requires that they always be “on” regardless of how well they feel. For attendance policies to be effective, they must be flexible for a job that is unique in many ways.