More than 1 in 4 of the nation’s full-time teachers are considered chronically absent from school, according to federal data, missing the equivalent of more than two weeks of classes each academic year in what some districts say has become an educational crisis.
The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights estimated that 27 percent of the nation’s teachers are out of school for more than 10 days of regular classes — some missing far more than 10 days — based on self-reported numbers from the nation’s school districts. But some school systems, especially those in poor, rural areas and in some major cities, saw chronic absenteeism among teachers rise above 75 percent in 2014, the last year for which data are available.
Although much attention focuses on the 6 million students who miss more than 15 days of school each year, making them much more likely to see low achievement and increasing the chances of not graduating, teacher absences could be having a similarly negative effect on scholastic success. Superintendents and education policymakers say students need consistency in the classroom and high-quality instruction, noting that a parade of substitutes can seriously set back academic progress.
The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that when teachers are absent for at least 10 days, there is a significant decrease in student outcomes. The decrease, according to one study, is equivalent to the difference between having a new teacher and one with two or three years of experience.
School district administrators do not know what exactly is causing excessive teacher absenteeism. Some point to teachers taking sick leave, maternity leave and personal days to which they are entitled, and others attribute part of the problem to school climate. When teachers don’t feel motivated to go to school and teach, some of them just don’t show up.
The estimates from the Education Department indicated that 58 school districts with more than 1,000 full-time teachers had chronic absentee rates above 50 percent.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the federal data doesn’t paint a fair, complete or accurate picture because it only reports when teachers are out of their classrooms, not why they are out, such as for illnesses or family deaths. She explains, “To better address absenteeism, we need to understand root causes.”
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