Teacher Absenteeism is a “Leading Indicator” of Student Success

A new paper recently released by the Center for American Progress argues that excessive teacher absences, as might be expected, cause decreases in student achievement and waste school district resources. However, the paper asserts that problem of these excessive absences could be fairly easily alleviated because “the vast variation in teacher absence behavior means there is room in many districts and individual schools for teachers to have adequate access to paid leave while being absent less frequently.”

Basing its report on the U.S. Department of Education’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey, which for the first time included teacher absences, the Center for American Progress and its lead author Raegan Miller conclude that teacher absences should be seen as a “leading indicator” of student achievement.

The following are the key findings of the report:

  • There is a large variation in teacher absence behavior. On average, 36 percent of teachers nationally were absent more than 10 days during the 2009-10 school year. The percentages reported by individual schools range from 0 percent to 100 percent, with 62 percent of the variation in the measure occurring between districts and a third occurring within districts. State averages of teacher absence range from a low of 20.9 percent in Utah to a high of 50.2 percent in Rhode Island.
  • Type of school matters. Teachers are absent from traditional public schools more than 10 times per year at a rate that is 15.2 percentage points higher than in charter schools.
  • Grade level matters. A school’s grade-level configuration provides some indication of its teachers’ absence behavior. On average, 33.3 percent of high school teachers, 36.7 percent of middle school teachers, and 37.8 percent of elementary school teachers were absent more than 10 days per year.
  • Racial disparities exist. Schools serving high proportions of African American or Latino students are disproportionately exposed to teacher absence. Holding constant the grade level and whether a school is a charter, a school with its proportion of African American students in the 90th percentile has a teacher absence rate that is 3.5 percentage points higher than a school in the 10th percentile. The corresponding differential based on percentages of Latino students is 3.2 percentage points.

While there has already been progress at the federal level, as evidenced by the fact that absences are now a statistical item in the CRDC survey, state and local school districts should also take note of the following recommendations:

  • State policymakers should revisit statues governing employees’ leave privileges. All employees should have access to a minimum standard of at least seven paid sick days per year, and most teachers are covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave. Teachers’ leave provisions in some states, however, may be too permissive, elevating rates of absence and incurring the financial liability of accumulated, unused leave.
  • All states should ensure that employees have access to family and medical leave insurance to provide income support when a worker has a new child, needs to care for a seriously ill family member, or needs to recover from one’s own serious illness.
  • Local policymakers should be encouraged to “right-size” leave privileges and initiate incentive policies designed to reduce levels of teacher absence. Many examples of such policies exist and teachers respond to them. The cost associated with smart incentive plans can be covered by the savings realized from reduced absence rates. Improved student achievement would be a likely and desirable side benefit of such initiatives.

Read the full report at
http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/TeacherAbsence-6.pdf or http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/report/2012/11/05/40371/teacher-absence-as-a-leading-indicator-of-student-achievement/