Student Well-Being From Our Research Center

1 in 4 Teachers Miss 10 or More School Days, Analysis Finds

By Sarah D. Sparks — June 27, 2016 5 min read

More than 6.5 million students in 2013-14 attended a school where at least half of teachers missed 10 days of school or more, according to the most recent estimate from the U.S. Department of Education.

Now, a new analysis by the Education Week Research Center adds some context to those numbers. Looking at the same data from the federal civil rights office, it finds that nationwide, slightly more than 1 in 4 teachers missed 10 days or more of school in 2013-14.

While every day off can set teachers and their students behind, 10 days evens out to about a day a month in a 180-day school year. It’s a typical minimum leave, both for school districts and employers in other professions, and may include leave for illness or personal issues, jury duty, bereavement, religious holidays or parental leave. However, the federal data does not provide details of exactly how many days individual teachers miss, or for what reasons.

In Seattle, for example, teachers get 12 days of sickness and personal leave time in a 10-month school year, according to the National Center for Teaching Quality’s district contract database. Many districts are more generous than that: Boston, for example, gives 15 days and allows teachers to roll over their unused time.

Prior research has found students whose teachers miss 10 days of school have lower math achievement and less engagement in school.

Questions on Causes

Both Education Week’s analysis and a 2013 study by NCTQ found teacher absenteeism was virtually the same for schools with high and low concentrations of students in poverty. Schools with high concentrations of low-income students were about equally likely to have high rates of teacher absenteeism as other schools. (The Education Week analysis did not include racial data.)

Individual state education policies and economies may play a role in teacher leave, however. Based on the Education Week analysis, Hawaii had the highest absentee rate, at 75 percent of teachers taking more than 10 days off, while in Utah, the lowest, only 16 percent do so. In Nevada, which is coping with deepening teacher shortages, nearly half of all teachers miss more than 10 days of school a year, and long-term substitutes often fill in for teachers in high-need areas like special education.

“There’s no getting around the fact that teachers are going to be absent, because they are professionals but also human and there are things that come up,” said Nithya Joseph, the director for state and district policy at the National Center for Teaching Quality. But, she added, “the sub is always going to be coming in at a disadvantage. When students are with a substitute, that does come at a cost to the student.”

The policy mechanisms that exacerbate or curb teacher absences are hard to pinpoint, though. Across 40 of the largest school districts in the country in 2013, Joseph and her colleagues at NCTQ analyzed differences between districts with rewards for perfect attendance, strict reporting, and other punitive measures intended to discourage taking time off, and other common initiatives.

“We just didn’t find any correlation between those policies and teacher absences,” Joseph said. “We couldn’t find a concrete reason why. It sounded like it was more something related to school culture; it was anecdotal, but pretty consistent in the people we talked to.”

For example, teachers were less likely to take time off when there was no standardized system in the district for finding a good substitute.

Training and Support

The effect of a teacher’s absence on students may also hinge on the kinds of supports and requirements in place for substitute teachers. For example, Washington state, Iowa, and Alabama each have teacher absentee rates at or around 30 percent, but local policies differ considerably. In Alabama, a high school diploma or GED and a background check are enough to allow an adult to take over a class for a week at $8.50 an hour. A general education substitute in Iowa needs a bachelor’s degree and 15 hours of training by the district and gets paid a median $13.60 an hour. Washington state, which has experienced off-and-on substitute shortages, has even higher standards: a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate, plus two days of targeted professional development in major districts like Seattle. Its median pay, at more than $17 an hour, ranks among the top in the country for substitutes, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jim Politis, the head of the National Substitute Teachers Alliance and a substitute for more than 15 years, said across the country, substitutes get very little training or support.

“It’s very much sink or swim,” Politis said. “Retired teachers generally have very little trouble dealing with a class and improvising even if it’s not their subject area—but most substitutes are not former teachers, and there’s no differentiation in the preparation for substitutes depending on their background.”

In Seattle, the district has started trying to pair substitutes with particular schools to build relationships among substitutes and classroom teachers, and to pay new substitutes for an hourlong orientation training. Teachers have developed most professional development for substitutes on their own, according to Jan Bowersox, a Seattle Education Association board member in charge of professional development. Last August, more than 120 substitute teachers gathered for a daylong seminar before the start of school, with sessions on topics like assertiveness, discouraging disruption, and “Establishing a Classroom Climate (Quickly) So Learning Can Happen.”

“[Professional development] designed by and presented by subs for subs is proving to be very effective,” Bowersox said.

Long-Term Relationships

Yet researchers and teachers alike argue districts could do more to plan for teacher absences in ways that keep students on their academic path and engaged in school.

Students can be more likely to disengage with a teacher who is absent frequently, particularly at the start of the year, according to Robert Balfanz, education professor at Johns Hopkins University. “Obviously, if the kids see that teachers are absent on a regular basis and there are a lot of subs, it sends a signal that not much is happening at school,” Balfanz said. “If teachers aren’t attending, it’s hard to make a convincing case that students should be attending regularly.”

The Substitute Teachers Alliance has recommended building closer working relationships between substitutes and teachers at individual schools.

“I think if a sub comes in and has a great lesson plan mapped out for them, that’s a great thing to do,” Joseph said, “but there’s still ... building the relationships and that rapport that makes a difference.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Explainer What Does the CDC's New Mask Recommendation Mean for Schools?
The stance that vaccinated people don't need to wear masks hasn't provided clarity for schools, where masks are a key COVID-19 strategy.
8 min read
White Plains High School students walk between classes, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in White Plains, N.Y.
High school students walk between classes in White Plains, N.Y.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Student Well-Being Explainer Can Schools Require Students to Get COVID-19 Vaccines, and Will They?
As younger children qualify for COVID-19 vaccines, health experts wonder if families will opt out of the vaccine if it's not required.
7 min read
13-year-old Olivia Edwards gets a bandage from a nurse after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in King of Prussia, Pa. on May 11, 2021.
Thirteen-year-old Olivia Edwards gets a bandage from a nurse after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in King of Prussia, Pa., this week.
Matt Slocum/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion Where Does Social-Emotional Learning Go Next?
Teachers, students, and parents all want more social-emotional and service learning in schools. The pandemic has only heightened that need.
John M. Bridgeland & Francie Richards
4 min read
Friendly group of people stand and support each other.
IULIIA/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Masks, Tracking, Desk Shields: How Much Do School Measures Reduce Families' COVID-19 Risk?
A new study pinpoints the most effective mitigation measures and suggests that the more of them schools use, the better.
5 min read
Jennifer Becker, right, Science Teacher at the Sinaloa Middle School, talks to one of her students in Novato, Calif. on March 2, 2021.
Jennifer Becker, right, a teacher at Sinaloa Middle School, wears a mask to stem the spread of coronavirus as she talks with a student earlier this year in Novato, Calif.
Haven Daily/AP