A study looking at the attendance of over 234,000 teachers in the 2012-2013 school year found disturbing evidence of a group of teachers who are absent at least one out of every ten school days. The report, Roll Call: The importance of teacher attendance, finds that at 16 percent, the group of chronically absent teachers was precisely equivalent in size to the group of teachers who had excellent attendance in that school year, absent three or fewer days.
The findings were especially troubling because the study excluded long term absences of 11 or more days in order to ensure that any teacher who had to take extended leave for illness or family problem were not part of the sample. The results only include absences of one to ten consecutive days.
The report categorizes teachers' attendance rates into four categories: excellent attendance (≤3 days); moderate attendance (4-10 days); frequent absenteeism (11-17 days) and chronic absenteeism (18 days or more). Among the report's main findings:
· On average, teachers missed 11 days out of a 186-day school year (the average school year length) for any reason, typically illness, illness of a family member, personal business or professional development. On average these districts offered a leave package of 13 days, intended for illness or personal reasons.
· The largest group was those with moderate attendance (40%) followed by those with frequent absenteeism (28%).
· In spite of previous research to the contrary, no relationship was found between teacher absences and the poverty levels of the children in the school building. More affluent schools were just as likely to have high rates of absences as less affluent schools.
· Indianapolis teachers had the lowest number of days missed of the 40 districts (6 days), followed by teachers working in the District of Columbia, Louisville (KY), Milwaukee, Tampa, New York and Philadelphia also had low average numbers of absences per teacher per year, all ranging from 7 to 9 days on average.
· Cleveland had the highest number of days missed on average (16 days), but Columbus (OH) (15 days), Nashville, Portland (OR) and Jacksonville (FL), were not far behind (all 14 days).
A sizeable percentage of the absences were for reasons classified as "district authorized" leave, which most often means professional development such as training on new curriculum adoptions or intervention strategies but also includes other absences that could include meetings held during the school day that require teachers to be in attendance, like union negations.
Although three quarters of the districts had policies to suppress absenteeism – typically strategies like requiring a doctor’s note after missing a certain number of days – there did not appear to be any impact on attendance rates. Districts without such policies had equivalent absenteeism. Walsh added, "We have learned that it is not so much district policy but expectations which lead to high attendance. Teachers who work in buildings that are led by principals with high standards are much less likely to be absent."
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) requested teacher attendance data for school year 2012-2013 (the most recent year for which such data is available) from 51 public school districts from the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. Forty of the 51 districts responded to the data request with enough information to be included in the report. NCTQ calculated the average teacher attendance rates and the average number of days teachers were absent, categorized teachers into one of four attendance categories, and examined the data for differences between schools with varying poverty levels and between districts with varying attendance incentives. Long-term absences (absences of more than 10 consecutive days) were not included in the analysis.