Report: 28 Percent of Public School Teachers ‘Chronically Absent’

AP Photo/Ty Wright

About 28 percent of public school teachers are “chronically absent” from their jobs, says a new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Fordham senior research and policy associate David Griffith’s report compares teacher chronic absenteeism rates – i.e., “the percentage of teachers who miss at least 11 days of school, excluding professional development days and field trips” – in both traditional public schools with those in charter schools.

For the most part, charter schools are publicly funded, but operated independently by nonprofits or for-profit companies.

The study finds a national trend that, in traditional public schools, teachers are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as charter school teachers – 28.3 percent vs. 10.3 percent.

In eight states (Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Oklahoma) and the District of Columbia, traditional public school teachers are four times as likely to be chronically absent as charter school teachers.

Hawaii and Nevada have the largest gaps in chronic absenteeism between traditional public school and charter school teachers, with Hawaii’s gap found to be 79 percent for traditional public school teachers vs. 23 percent for charter school teachers.

In Nevada, teachers in traditional public schools were found to be seven times as likely to be chronically absent as their charter school peers.

The data analysis also finds that in each of the ten largest cities in the country (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, and Atlanta), teachers in traditional public schools are more likely to be chronically absent than teachers in charter schools.

Fordham’s Amber Northern and Michael Petrilli note in the report’s Foreword that many states listed in their education plans submitted to the federal government – to meet their requirements as set forth in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – some form of student absenteeism as an indicator of school quality.

“Yet not a single state has opted to use teacher chronic absenteeism as an indicator of school quality, despite the fact that most schools already report a version of such data to the federal Office for Civil Rights,” they write. “Why would we hold schools to account for the attendance of their students but not of their own teachers? How can anyone expect students to learn when their teachers are absent?”

According to the report:

On average, US workers are entitled to approximately eight days of paid sick leave per year, and only two-fifths are entitled to paid personal leave. Yet, despite the fact that the typical school year is only 180 days (or about 20–25 percent shorter than the typical work year in other industries), teachers in traditional public schools are entitled to an average of twelve sick and personal days.

“Although there is no clear relationship between collective bargaining laws and teacher chronic absenteeism in traditional public schools,” Griffith writes, “the gap between charter and traditional public school teachers is smallest in states where collective bargaining is illegal.”

The author also finds that, nationally, teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in non-unionized charter schools.

Griffith notes the study is descriptive and does not prove a causal relationship between chronic absenteeism and negotiated union contracts:

Although this study is descriptive, the patterns it highlights certainly suggest that the high chronic absenteeism rates we observe for teachers in traditional public schools are at least partly attributable to the generous leave policies and myriad job protections enshrined in state laws and local collective bargaining agreements.

In addition, many charter schools are founded on the premise that they will go the extra mile and that “no excuses” will be tolerated from students or teachers. And consistent with that ethos, the data suggest that teacher chronic absenteeism is almost nonexistent in many of the nation’s leading charter networks.

However, according to Education Week, Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association – the nation’s largest teachers’ union – said, “Fordham is using corrupted assertions to draw misguided conclusions.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten similarly said, “Leave polices exist to ensure kids can learn in a safe and healthy environment … The reality is that charter schools need better leave policies, not worse ones, a fact ignored by Fordham.”

The Fordham Institute has drawn much controversy over the years from anti-Common Core activists who want control of education returned to states and localities.

Fordham has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is a supporter of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, charter schools, and the Common Core standards.

Writing at Breitbart News in April of 2014, the Boston-based Pioneer Institute’s director of the Center for School Reform Jamie Gass explained the controversy over Fordham’s Gates-funded analysis of the standards of states vs. Common Core:

In 2010, Fordham used some of that Gates money to compare each state’s standards to Common Core. As you might expect, they found Common Core’s English standards superior to their counterparts in 37 states and the math standards better than those in 39 states. Fordham described the comparison as “too close to call” in most of the remaining states.

“When comparing Common Core to Massachusetts’ standards, generally considered the country’s best, Fordham found them to be too close to call,” Gass wrote. “But four crosswalks conducted by Pioneer Institute, the only comparisons not funded by Gates, found that although the Common Core standards improved along the way, the final versions remained clearly inferior to the Bay State’s previous English and math standards.”


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