Absent Teachers Put Public School Students at Risk

Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013 09:23 AM

By Lisa Barron

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Around one-in-three public school teachers takes at least 10 days off every year, according to new research.

And in Rhode Island more than half of its teachers reached that threshold in 2012, with four other states, Hawaii, Arkansas, New Mexico and Michigan, not far behind, according to figures compiled by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, compiled for 2012.

Schools with large numbers of minority students are “disproportionately exposed to teacher absence,” according to researcher Raegen Miller, who studied the federal survey date for the Center for American Progress, notes USA Today.

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“Everybody basically accepts that teachers are the most important school-based resource affecting student achievement,” said Miller. “Well, if that’s true, we ought to be paying a lot more attention to the students’ actual exposure to teachers.”

A 2007 Duke University study estimated that for every 10 math classes a teacher misses, students’ achievement drops the same it would if an experienced teacher had been replaced by a novice.

Miller estimates the cost of providing substitute teachers at $4 billion every year and says absenteeism could get even worse as the country recovers from the recession and teachers become less fearful of losing their job for taking too many sick days.

Researchers at Duke have suggested paying teachers $400 a year more but docking them $50 for every sick day they use, says USA Today, while the National Council on Teacher Quality said superintendents should work to change school culture and persuade teachers to focus more on showing up for work unless they are truly ill.

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