In 2018 NCTQ completed the effort of collecting teacher absenteeism data from school districts across the country. NCTQ was able to collect, clean, and process teacher absence data from 30 districts, 21 of which also included central office absence data.
Using 2015-2017 attendance data, the study found that on average teachers are absent 9 days over the course of a school year, out of the 13 days of leave that they receive. This means that, on average, teachers are in the classroom 95% of their 187-day contract year.
During the course of this attendance study, a statistical analysis of all the data received on absences revealed some key relationships between teachers' absences and selected teachers', schools' and districts' characteristics. Overall, our findings indicate that:
- Teachers with more experience tend to be absent more frequently, which may suggest that job stability concerns have an effect on novice teachers' absences.
- Teachers are absent mainly when they're sick (5 days on average), rather than for personal reasons (2 days on average), and use up about half of their available leave for both categories.
- On average, teachers in districts with higher percentages of students of color tend to be absent less frequently.
- Teachers' pay seems to have a small positive relationship with teacher's attendance.
These are our specific findings in order of significance and magnitude:
- Maximum Personal leave (by district): Overall, the more personal leave teachers have, the more time they are absent. On average, a teacher in this study gets a little under 4 days of personal leave. For every extra day of personal leave granted by the district, teachers on average are absent 2 more hours over the course of the school year.
- District's base salary in their experience bracket (real, adjusted for regional price parity): This is an approximate to a teacher's actual salary, and we found that the higher a teacher's estimated salary (according to their experience but not level of education or other factors), the lower their number of absences. For this study, the teacher's real average estimated salary was $50,000. We found that for every $10,000 of extra real salary (adjusted for regional price differences), all else constant, a teacher will on average be absent 45 minutes less over the course of the school year.
- School Enrollment: Larger schools tend to have teachers that are absent less time. One model found that for schools with 10% higher enrollment across all districts, teachers' absences decrease on average by 0.2%.
- Tenure: a teacher's tenure was found mildly positively related to absenteeism in most models, and also mildly negatively related in one model. It would mean that teachers with tenure are absent somewhat more. It is likely that its effects are being picked up by the presence of teacher's experience in the models.
- FRL: A higher percentage of students in the free and reduced lunch programs, as a proxy for the fraction of economically disadvantaged students or students in poverty, was found to be related to a slightly lower level of absenteeism in one model and a slightly higher level of teacher absenteeism in two models, not all of those statistically significant. Overall, although the statistical relationship appears to be unclear, what has been observed by analyzing this data graphically in relation to absenteeism, is that the relationship is not linear, but that there is an increase in absenteeism with an increase in FRL participation up to the fourth quintile, and absenteeism decreases in the top quintile (highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students).
The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic changed a lot of perspectives about sick leave and absenteeism. While some educators once considered coming to work every day no matter what a badge of honor, that perspective may no longer seem as noble, but instead the exact opposite. With the transition to online learning, there may even be a benefit whereas instances that formerly required a teacher to be absent and a substitute to take her place (detrimental to student learning), may not be needed as often in the future. However, teacher absenteeism is still an important data point for districts to track and understand in order to consider future policies to ensure a high-quality workforce for its students. It is recommended for districts to consider the following actions:
- If the district does not already have one in place, build a centralized system for collecting teacher attendance data linked to teachers' schools and other key characteristics. Use these data to create an early warning system for schools or teachers whose attendance patterns seem concerning.
- Review current absentee codes and categories. Absentee codes and categories should be granular enough for a district to be able to determine how much sick leave can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic versus other, relatively normal sick leave. This information may impact potential benefits and leave policies moving forward, at least in the next few years.
- Disaggregate teacher absenteeism by school characteristics such as the percent of students of color and percent of students from low-income families. Although the correlations study found that teachers in school with higher percentages of students of color were absent less often, this finding was before the pandemic and districts should review current data to determine if the average attendance for these schools exhibits any disproportionate teacher absence.
- Provide school administrators access to reports on teacher attendance within their school, allowing them to flag potential cases of chronic absenteeism and to intervene as warranted.
For more detailed information on the methodology and the models supporting these findings, please refer to the attendance methodology and regression analysis document.
Suggested Citation: Saenz-Armstrong, P. (2020). Roll Call 2020: Factors associated with teacher absenteeism. National Council on Teacher Quality.