Poor attendance can be an issue for teachers too

Poor attendance can be an issue for teachers too

(District of Columbia) To combat the growing problem of chronic absenteeism among teachers, policy makers need to take a hard look at working conditions, a national think tank advised last week.

A new report from the Fordham Foundation, found that one major charter network increased its teacher work attendance after providing more access to on-site daycare. They also found that school culture is a factor, especially when principals and district administrators set either a good or poor example.

But perhaps the biggest factor, the Fordham team said, are labor contracts which regulate how much teachers can take without jeopardizing their employment, and what happens to the time that teachers don’t take advantage of.

“Like everyone else, educators occasionally have to miss work,” said Amber M. Northern and Michael J. Petrilli in the forward to the report. “And anyone who has never actually taught would be wise not to underestimate the challenges that teachers face, especially in high-poverty schools and those with many at-risk children. We begrudge no teacher for taking a “mental health day” now and again, or needing to be home to care for a sick child of her own.

“Yet we also know that teachers are the single most powerful instrument that schools have to boost student learning,” they noted. “When teachers miss school, students miss out on education.”

While most of the attention in public schools are on students that miss too much class, according to the Fordham survey, there’s also a growing crisis among no-show teachers.

Nationally, they reported, 28 percent of teachers in traditional public schools can be labeled ‘chronically absent,’ meaning that they miss more than 10 school days a year because of sickness or personal leave. Among charter school teachers, the figure is close to 10 percent.

These rates compare unfavorably to the rest of the American work force, where 7.7 percent of employees with access to paid sick leave take 10 or more days, according a report from the National Center for Health Statistics covering 2005 to 2013.

“In other words, the percentage  of teachers in traditional public schools who take more than ten sick and personal days is almost four times higher than the percentage of employees in other industries who take at least ten sick days-despite the fact that teachers have significantly fewer work days than employees in other industries,” Fordham said.

Policy and state law related to teacher sick leave and personal time vary widely. There are 19 states and the District of Columbia that have statutes giving teachers a minimum of 10 days of sick and personal time each year. Another 11 provide more than 10 days. There are another 16 states that leave the question up to the local school boards.

In Texas, teachers are entitled to five days whether for personal time or sick leave.

Among districts surveyed, sick leave and personal time can range from seven to 25 based on collective bargaining agreements. The average among those districts reviewed was 12.7 days but 95 percent of the contracts provided at least ten days.

According Fordham, teachers in traditional public school setting are more likely to be chronically absent than those who work for charter schools. States where collective bargaining is the law also tend to have higher rates of absenteeism among teachers, according to Fordham.

The highest rate of absenteeism among teachers was found in Hawaii where 79 percent of those working in traditional public schools qualified. The lowest rates were recorded in Utah, where about 18 percent met the distinction.

A key recommendation from the report is that policy makers need to look closely at the stress and demands modern education requires of the teaching work force.

“Much has been written about the working conditions in schools-and with good reason,” Fordham said. “Given the challenges teachers face, we ought to take greater pains to make schools inviting, especially in places that may be very hard to work in.”