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Teacher Absenteeism a Big Problem in MN Public Schools

It used to be students who got in trouble for skipping school. But a new national report card out this week gives teachers at traditional public schools an F for absenteeism in comparison to the amount of class time missed by charter school teachers.

The Thomas B. Forham Institute report finds teachers in traditional public schools are about three times more prone to be chronically absent at least ten days per school year for sick and personal leave than their charter school counterparts. Altogether, some 28 percent of teacher in traditional public schools miss more than two school weeks a year versus about ten percent of charter school faculty.

The Minnesota numbers parallel the national average with 29.9 percent of public school teachers missing at least ten days compared to 10.2 percent of charter school staff.

The report points out that the number of excused absences available to teachers in traditional public schools far exceeds the norm for private business.

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.

What accounts for the discrepancy? The obvious explanation points to the influence of teachers’ unions. By definition, most charter schools tend not to be unionized.

For the most part, these generous leave policies are negotiated by teacher unions and school boards and incorporated into contracts (or sometimes state law).

These policies explain why more than one-quarter of public school teachers in the United States are
chronically absent—meaning they miss more than ten days of school per year due to sick or personal leave.
In some states, the numbers are truly shocking. For example, three-quarters of teachers in Hawaii are
chronically absent.

The stunning amount of missed classroom time by teachers has finally begun to attract the attention of policy makers. The upside of bringing personal time policies for teachers in traditional public schools in line with other industries could be significant.

While the gains associated with improving one teacher’s attendance are modest, the potential
gains associated with improving teacher attendance nationwide are considerable: equivalent
to extending the school year in every state or hiring thousands of additional teachers at no cost to
taxpayers. Consequently, any policy that appears to systematically improve teacher attendance is worthy of attention.

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