If 80 percent of success is showing up, one in six American teachers are failing.
A new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) collects data from 40 public-school districts across the country, including the District of Columbia and New York City; and the NCTQ finds that 16 percent of teachers surveyed were “chronically absent” during the 2012–13 school year. For the purposes of this study, “chronically absent” means missing 18 or more days of the school year, not including long-term absences for maternity or paternity leave or for long-term illness. This averages out to missing a day of teaching once every two weeks, or 10 percent of the school year — which in most districts is only 175 to 180 days. (Let’s not forget, teachers get a quarter-year off in summertime.)
Teacher truancy in some of the surveyed districts was substantially worse than the national average. In the Portland, Oregon Public School District teachers are not in their classrooms for an average of three school weeks a year. In comparison, workers in the farming, forestry, and fishing industries, which report the most health problems, only miss an average of one day every four months. And they don’t get summers off. Twenty-eight percent of Portland’s teachers were “chronically absent” during the 2012–13 school year.
Incentives to encourage teachers to report to work, such as extra pay for unused sick days, did not affect attendance rates and neither did the school district’s poverty rates. By comparison, private-sector workers need no such incentives to show up for work because they are at risk of being fired.
Many Americans could no more imagine a teacher getting fired for not doing his or her job than they could envision using an outhouse. Tenure traditions have long been cemented in public contracts and even legal codes in many parts of the country.
“While some, no doubt, will find fault with teachers in this attendance report, an overall 94 percent attendance rate shows the extraordinary dedication of teachers across the country, who come to school each day,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said. “This kind of stability is what our kids need to succeed.”
Nancy Waymack, the NCTQ’s managing director of district policy, said, “It occurred to us that teacher attendance could be a very easy way to increase teacher quality. Regardless of how effective a teacher is, it doesn’t matter if they’re not in the classroom. . . . There’s a substantial cost both academic and financial to absences when they’re larger than they need to be.”
Substitutes for the absent teachers cost taxpayers in these 40 school districts about $424 million last year. To save the districts money, the study suggests using a more personal system for teachers to report absences, such as calling a superior, instead of simply logging the absence in an online system.
Teachers, with the help of the AFT and powerful local unions all over America, have managed to burrow into a logical hole where they can get away with seemingly anything, including simply not going to work. Some politicians, including Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, have stood up to powerful government-employee unions. The Garden State’s new tenure law allowed the people of New Jersey to fire four tenured teachers, three of whom were guilty of excessive absenteeism.
One of those teachers missed 600 days of class in a 37-year career. Presuming a 180-day school year, that means this teacher’s average of 9 percent truancy is barely high enough to qualify for the “chronically absent” club of humanity’s noblest known profession.
— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review.