To the Editors:
I read with interest “Educators Take Another Look at Substitutes” (July 18, 2012). Three facts from the story stand out to me: Students almost always learn less when the regular teacher is not present; the rate of teacher absenteeism correlates to the culture of the school (and the absence rate is rising in many systems); and the total expenditure for substitutes is staggering.
I agree that employing permanent substitutes and using only “in-house, regular teacher subs” narrows the learning deficit somewhat. Beyond this analysis, however, is the fact that much of our substitute expense is self-inflicted.
Yes, there are illnesses and family emergencies that necessitate teacher absence. It seems to me, however, that we could do a better job of providing professional development for educators outside of student instructional time. Professional development should be scheduled on noninstructional days and during the summer. Such practices both decrease impediments to student achievement and serve to raise teacher salaries by paying them for their extra time. It also reduces the need for substitutes.
Assistant Professor of Education
A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as Minimizing the Need for Substitute Teachers