Chronic teacher absenses: What is too many days? How do you prevent?

USA Today has a graphic map showing how many school districts around the nation have a major problem with teacher attendance.

ExploreFrom the USA Today graphic:

"On average, teachers were in the classroom in school systems in the largest metro areas 94% of the school year, but even that rate results in an average of 11 days absent. In many districts, a significant percentage of teachers exceeded that number: 28% of teachers overall were absent 11 to 17 days – frequently absent – and 16%, nearly 1 in 6, were gone 18 days or more, called chronically absent in this report. Nine districts had more than half of their teachers absent for more than two weeks of the school year."

Atlanta had 30.2 percent frequently absent. (I am not clear if that mean the APS district or the metro area, which would include multiple school districts.)

ExploreFrom the story:

"The study from the National Council on Teacher Quality looked at attendance for more than 234,000 teachers in 40 districts during the 2012-13 year and found that 16% of all teachers were classified as chronically absent because they missed 18 days or more."

"While these big-city school districts are struggling to improve student achievement, they may be overlooking one of the most basic aspects of teacher effectiveness: every teacher being regularly on the job, teaching kids," said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington think tank that advocates for reform in recruiting, retaining and compensating teachers. It receives its money from private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation….

"When you have a substitute, they don't know the children, their learning needs or the curriculum as well as a regular teacher," said Principal Stephen Tyra of Bowen Elementary School in Louisville. "Despite their best efforts, it's often a diminished day compared to having the regular teacher in class."

"One practice that seems to be effective in discouraging absences is having a teacher "actually talk to the principal when calling in as opposed to calling in or logging on to a substitute teacher line," Waymack said."

I think a lot of the absences are because many teachers are mothers. If their children are sick then they have to stay home. If you have more than one kid, then three or four absent days per year per kid start to add up. If you add in the teacher herself being sick, then that is more days. I absolutely agree that in most cases you’re losing the day if a sub shows up. (There are a some super subs who really know their schools and know their business but it’s often not the case.)

So I think there are multiple things to look at:

  1. The truly truant teachers – those teachers that are missing 18 or more days. Why are they missing that many?
  2. Is there a way to care for teachers' sick kids so they can still work?
  3. Improving substitutes – Maybe subs are hired for specialties and shared across schools at least at the high school and middle school level? Maybe those subs would be paid more? I have a friend who taught at a Catholic school and the teachers literally had to pay the subs out of their salaries. I think that would discourage absences.

So what do you think: Are there reasonable explanations for missing more than 11 days of work a year? Would the private sector tolerate that many days at an office job? Does it matter more in schools than in an office setting? How do you reduce absences, increase productivity of subs but still makes sure teachers are able to take care of their own families?