Teacher absenteeism is a subject we don’t hear about much, but during the 2011-2012 school year, across the state, nearly one-third, or 15,342 of Alabama’s classroom teachers missed more than 10 days of school according to the data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).
Leading research indicates that student achievement can be negatively impacted by teacher absences.
Sure, teachers miss school for illness and family leave, but teachers also miss school to engage in professional learning activities and supervise co-curricular academic and athletic activities.
But do those absences have an effect on our children?
Do Alabama’s Schools Have a Teacher Absence Problem?
Once again, without hard data, it’s difficult to tell.
We do have one set of data points from the CRDC. We’ll get to that in a moment.
To be clear, this data only tells us how many teachers in each school miss more than 10 days during the school year.
It doesn’t tell us how many teachers have been absent how many days, though, and it doesn’t tell us how many teachers are chronically absent.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as being absent more than 10% of the school year, which for districts in Alabama was 18 days for the 2011-2012 school year.
And there is no way to tell which string of absences might actually be tied to a medical leave or professional development.
Do Teacher Absences Matter?
This article, from EducationNext, highlights the problems associated with teacher absences, including the disruption of classroom management and the loss of useful instruction time.
National studies have confirmed the connection between teacher absences and lowered student achievement.
And even among groups questioning what teacher absence data actually reveals, the need to collect better data is acknowledged.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) published the results of a study about teacher absences in June 2014, where they concluded
Research has shown a significant negative impact on student achievement in classrooms where the teacher is absent for ten days. Yet in the average classroom in this study, teachers exceeded this level of absence, often for perfectly legitimate reasons and even in pursuit of becoming a more effective instructor. 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. (p. 15 of the PDF)
The NCTQ acknowledged the legitimate reasons for teacher absences, but pressed decision makers to consider the impact of those absences on the children whose achievement they are charged with impacting.
The Financial Cost of Teacher Absences
When teachers are absent, substitutes are typically hired and paid for by local school districts. Pay for substitutes ranges from $35 to $100 per day in Alabama’s school districts, according to the Substitute Teacher Handbook, and Mobile County Public Schools pays up to $120 per day for long-term substitutes who are highly qualified.
A number of districts in Alabama have partnered with Kelly Educational Services to staff substitute positions in their schools.
So how much do substitute teachers cost in real dollars? Once again, we don’t have that information, but I am currently collecting it and hope to publish it in the very near future.
The Teacher Absence Data – What We Know
So here’s the percentage of teachers who were absent more than ten days during the 2011-2012 school year, by district.
Here’s the actual data by school. If you’d like to download the spreadsheet, check it out on Google docs.
Better data is sorely needed. Given the link between student achievement and teacher absences, local boards of education and community members should be asking questions about whether teacher absences are causing any problems in their schools.
Specific questions include:
- What does our teacher absence data look like, by school?
- Do any of our schools appear to have a problem with teacher absences?
- Is there any impact of teacher absences on student achievement?
- How much money do we pay for substitutes?
- What policies do we have in place to encourage teacher attendance?
- Does the number of years a teacher is employed have any relationship to the number of absences?
- Is professional development occurring too frequently during the school year?
- Do extracurricular activities (e.g., coaches who are also teachers) impact teacher absences?
Once board members and communities can get answers to those questions, then the real discussion begins.
More from the CRDC
Check out what all you can find in the CRDC.
NOTE: This is the second set of data points in my Dream Database: information about teacher absences.