District Trendline

September 2014: Substitute teachers

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District Trendline, previously known as Teacher Trendline, provides actionable research to improve district personnel policies that will strengthen the teacher workforce. Want evidence-based guidance on policies and practices that will enhance your ability to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers delivered right to your inbox each month? Subscribe here.

We're a bit late on the September-issue of the Trendline, but no need to hold your breath any longer, dear readers...here it is!

As teachers and students settle into the new school year, we turn our attention to a group of teachers who often are overlooked: substitutes. Given the importance of teacher attendance, it's valuable to know the policies that set the rules for substitute teachers, from the education credentials required of them to how they are evaluated.

Required education credentials

About half of school districts require that substitute teachers have at least a Bachelor's degree, while a third do not require them to have any postsecondary degree.

Licensing requirements

While permanent teachers in every state are required to be licensed, that's not the case for those who fill in for them when they're out. Nearly half of the districts in the Teacher Contract Database (58 districts) do not mention anything in either board policies or their teacher contract about substitute teachers needing some sort of license. However, looking at state law, we are able to get a better picture of what is required.

The number of districts in our database that require substitutes to earn a license or certificate is almost the same as those that do not (50 and 53 districts, respectively). Seventeen districts are in states where this issue is always decided at the local level.

In some districts, however, there appears to be some wiggle room in how these rules are enforced. For example, while Pinellas County (FL) technically requires a substitute certification, substitutes can teach while they are awaiting certification or if they have completed a student teaching internship.

Evaluation requirements

While teacher evaluations continue to be a hot topic in the news, evaluations for substitute teachers are rarely discussed. As we find after taking a close look at district contracts and board policies, this could be because these requirements are often undefined.

Looking at school board policies or districts' contracts, the vast majority of districts, 72 percent, do not address evaluation requirements for substitutes. Roughly 20 percent of the districts in the database (25 districts) require substitute teachers to be evaluated. Of these districts, nine—Boston, Charleston County (SC), Dayton (OH), Hillsborough County (FL), Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach— only evaluate long-term substitute teachers.

Pay and health benefits

Most districts offer substitute teachers a range of daily pay rates, based on their qualifications, experience and time on a particular assignment. Using the rate set at the beginning of assignment and the certification and education requirements for substitutes, we find that most districts pay substitute teachers anywhere between $70 and $89 a day, about $10-$13/hour for a seven-hour work day.

The four districts that pay substitutes the most per day are: Portland (OR) at $180.96 per day, Los Angeles at $173 per day, Seattle at $157 per day (for substitutes teaching fewer than 30 days; the pay rate increases as the length of assignment increases) and New York City, at $155 per day.

With regard to substitute teachers' access to health benefits through the district, just over 60 percent of districts do not address this issue in local policy (suggesting that they probably do not provide health insurance). Nearly one in four districts (28 districts) offers substitutes health care benefits.

Of the 28 districts that do provide health care to substitutes, many limit health coverage to a subset of substitutes, most commonly those that are serving in long-term assignments.

In Fargo, substitutes have access to health care benefits after teaching 60 days during a school year. In four districts, substitutes have access to health care benefits after they have taught a minimum number of days the previous year. In Cleveland, the minimum is 120 days; in Los Angeles, it's at least 600 hours (about 75 days); in Portland (OR), it's at least 70 days; and in Springfield (MA), it's 150 days.