More than 900,000 K-12 teachers per school year are too often absent from their classrooms. That number constitutes the 28% of teachers nationwide who are “chronically absent.” Ten days per school year is considered the tipping point beyond which teacher absences go from an acceptable level to the problematic “chronic” level.
Teachers’ paid sick time is usually determined at the district level and is often an item negotiated at contract renewals. But teacher absences have financial implications for school districts across the country, as well as potential negative effects on their students, colleagues, and school communities. So how does your district stack up against the national statistics, and what can be done to minimize the negative impact of teachers’ absences on their students?
A Look at the National Statistics
Teacher attendance data compiled by the Civil Rights Data Collection was analyzed by the Education Week Resource Center. It revealed an increase from the previous average of 27% of teachers chronically absent in the 2013-14 school year. When analyzing data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, researchers defined teacher absence as being out of the classroom for illness or personal reasons but did not include days away due to school-related business, like professional development and field trips.
The state with the highest percentage of chronically absent teachers was Nevada with 50% followed by Hawaii with 48% and Rhode Island with 41%. West Virginia and Alaska each had 40% of their teachers at the chronic level. South Dakota had the lowest rate with 18% of teachers chronically absent. Twenty-two states had chronically-absent rates lower than the national average, while 22 states had rates higher than average.
Charter schools typically had fewer chronically absent teachers than traditional public schools, though with 2 out of every 5 charters reporting none at all, further research was recommended. One set of troubling statistics indicated that in as many as 1 in 10 schools, the majority of teachers were chronically absent. These were largely elementary buildings, and many specialized in students with disabilities.
Factors Affecting Teacher Attendance
Many factors that influence teacher attendance. Here are some that bear consideration:
- Illness: Teachers work every day with large groups of young people. Regular exposure to contagious illnesses is an occupational hazard.
- Occupational stress: A recent study of elementary teachers in an urban Midwestern district noted 93% reporting high stress levels.
- Building culture: Some research suggests that teachers’ absenteeism is influenced by their colleagues’ attendance norms.
- Collective bargaining agreement: Contracts vary considerably with respect to paid sick time. Some researchers have suggested that absence rates are higher where a collective bargaining agreement exists.
- Rollover provision: Some contracts allow teachers to rollover unused sick days. Some districts compensate teachers financially by buying unused sick days back when the employee separates from the district.
- Physician signoff: Bargaining agreements typically determine the number of consecutive absence days a teacher may take without requiring a note from their physician.
- Teacher evaluation: In some states, any days over a specified maximum number of absences have a negative impact on a teacher’s annual evaluation.
- ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) guidelines: Some states have included teacher attendance in their ESSA accountability plans in an effort to positively impact student achievement.
Minimizing the Effects of Teacher Absences
Regardless of which side of the national average your district falls on, you are no doubt dealing with and trying to minimize the consequences of teacher absences. These include the associated financial cost to the district for substitute teachers, estimated by the National Council on Teacher Quality to be $1800 per substitute without the associated soft costs for recruiting, hiring, and training them. Another big consequence is the instructional cost of learning loss to your students. Having an effective absence management system in place can make dealing with teacher absences less problematic for all stakeholders.
To be certain that your district has adequate substitute coverage to minimize the impact of teacher absences, why not consult a specialist in absence management. A substitute staffing agency can help you analyze your needs and then get to work addressing them. With customized hiring and comprehensive training, a staffing agency can help you get the most from your investment while ensuring that students are learning in spite of teacher absences. In addition, the ongoing collection and analysis of absence data will provide support as you monitor district trends.
Though it may not be possible to completely counteract the negative consequences of teacher absences, a proactive approach can lessen the impact on students and on your bottom line. The right substitute staffing agency will not only provide trained, highly qualified substitutes, but they will also help to absorb those soft costs that add up quickly and strain district resources. So, as you attempt to put your district on the right side of the national average, safeguard student learning and stabilize your budget by partnering with a company that specializes in providing professional substitute teacher services.
Contact ESS for help analyzing your teacher absence rates. With a wealth of national resources and the boots-on-the-ground support of local and regional management teams, we will go to work building a team of professional substitute teachers on whom your district can depend to bridge the instructional gaps created when teachers are absent.
Phil has been supporting school districts across the country for more than 12 years. He works hands-on with districts implementing customized solutions to improve their substitute teacher and support staff programs. When he’s not increasing districts’ fill rates, Phil can be found swinging his clubs on a golf course.