Jillian Schneider | July 19, 2023
(The Lion) — Many education officials are concerned with the rise of chronic absenteeism among students. After all, schools can’t teach if students don’t attend.
But an equally pressing, though less publicized, issue is that of teacher absenteeism.
New data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals teacher absenteeism – missing 10 days or more out of the school year – has skyrocketed since the pandemic, with 72% of public schools reporting a rise in teacher absences.
Additionally, 77% of schools reported it is more difficult to find substitute teachers than before the pandemic, forcing administrators or other teachers to pick up the slack.
Half of the schools even admitted to combining classrooms when a substitute couldn’t be found. Even when substitutes are available, research suggests they are less effective than a teacher who is consistently present.
Combine all that with nationwide teacher shortages, and the dangers to public education are further increased.
Even before the pandemic, the Brookings Institute, a public policy think tank, noted that chronic absentee rates among teachers were already higher than the average college-educated worker in public service, and even higher than nurses.
Other research has found monetary incentives aren’t effective for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, indicating more pervasive issues with school culture and leadership.
Nonetheless, having a consistent teacher is crucial to student achievement, which is why education policy research fellows from The Heritage Foundation proposed two possible solutions to the downward spiral of teacher absenteeism – one for local districts, and one for state lawmakers.
“District officials should adopt policies that reward teachers who do not use all available sick or personal days and should pursue disciplinary action, including loss of pay, against teachers who are absent more than the contractually permitted number of schools days without evidence of long-term medical issues or bereavement,” write Jay Greene and Jonathan Butcher.
They also included a recommendation for state legislators to expand school choice.
“When families have options, they can select schools where teachers are more likely to be present day to day,” they explain. “Because of this competitive pressure, private schools tend to adopt policies and create work cultures that significantly reduce teacher absenteeism.”