Teachers remain the most important in-school factor for student learning. The implementation of remote learning reminds us of teachers' preeminent importance, with current schooling stripped of all but this one essential feature. Teachers can accomplish so much each day, that any day that they are absent means lost learning for their students.
Why teacher attendance matters
- Frequent teacher absences have a negative impact on student performance. A 10 day teacher absence has been shown to lower student achievement in math by an amount equivalent to students being taught by a beginner teacher versus a teacher with 3 to 5 years of experience.108 These effects are especially pronounced for elementary school students.109
- Teacher absenteeism is also a financial and administrative burden for districts. By one estimate, the nation's school districts spend approximately $4 billion annually to find and hire substitute teachers.110 On average, teacher absences cost districts an additional $1800 per teacher per year, based on data from a 2017 study.111
A new look at teacher attendance
Beginning in 2018, NCTQ sought to update our 2013 examination of teacher attendance, Roll Call. We were able to obtain attendance data for 30 of the largest school districts in the nation, including not only detailed information on teacher absences for the 2016-2017 school year, but in many cases detailed information on the absences of the central office staff of the district. Beyond examining teacher attendance trends, this study also aims to identify patterns and connections that surround teacher absenteeism, such as a connection between central office and teacher attendance, and correlations between teacher attendance and teacher characteristics such as tenure and years of experience.
This project, begun long before the pandemic emerged but only now being released, arrives at a time when there are fewer concerns about attendance, replaced by paramount concerns surrounding the need for teachers and students to remain safe and healthy. However, if there is anything that the coronavirus pandemic has shown the world, it is how critically important teachers are, and the "covid-slide" is a testament of the benefits of live instruction from a teacher compared to what a substitute or an asynchronous assignment can offer. This study looks ahead to a post-pandemic future, when teachers can again safely share a classroom with their students, and when school and district leaders will need to promote and support excellent attendance for all teachers. [findings1]
PATTERNS IN TEACHER AND STAFF ATTENDANCE
Over the last five years, teachers' attendance rates show a modest but meaningful improvement.
- Compared to NCTQ's 2014 Roll Call report, overall teacher attendance has improved, with teachers missing an average of 9.4 days in 2017 compared to 11 days in 2013. This represents an improvement in teachers' attendance rates from 94% to 95%.
- A comparison between the 2014 and the 2020 Roll Call reports shows that chronic absenteeism has also declined, with 10% of the teacher workforce in the sample classified as "chronically absent" compared to 16% in 2014. Excellent attendance, on the other hand, increased from 16% to 18%.
Most teachers are in school nearly every day.
- On average, teachers had a 95% attendance rate.
- The average teacher was absent 9.4 of 187 days in the average contract year.
- 18% of all teachers had excellent attendance (equal or less than 3 days of absence), with an average of 2 days of absence during the academic year.
A small portion of teachers are chronically absent and comprise a large portion of absences.
- 10% of all teachers were chronically absent, with an average of 22 days of absence during the academic year. These 10% of teachers are responsible for a quarter of all absences.
- About a third of the teacher workforce (35%) is at least frequently, if not chronically, absent, meaning they are absent over ten days in a school year.
Central office staff overall attendance was lower than that of teachers.
- On average, across the 18 districts of the sample that reported central office absences, central office staff were absent 20 days of their average 233-day contract year, which is equivalent to a 91% attendance rate.
- 30% of the central office staff had excellent attendance112 (compared to 18% of teachers) , with an average of 5 days of absence during the academic year.
- 30% of the central office staff was chronically absent (compared to 10% of teachers), with an average of 37 days of absence during the academic year.
- City School District of Albany was notable for its high attendance on the part of the central office staff, while Oklahoma City Public Schools and Orange County Public Schools (FL) posted the lowest attendance.
WHO IS ABSENT AND WHY?
Teachers are most often absent due to sick leave.
- Sick leave was the main reason cited by teachers for their absences (52% of absences). On average, teachers used 5 days of sick leave and 2 of personal leave.
Central office staff are most often absent due to personal leave.
- Central office staff were absent mainly due to personal reasons (52%). Central office staff used on average 7 days of sick leave and 10 days of personal leave.
Higher-needs schools saw higher teacher attendance.
- Teachers in schools with the highest poverty levels (80-100% economically disadvantaged students) were absent on average half a day less than teachers in schools with relatively lower poverty levels (20%-80% economically disadvantaged students). In general, schools with moderate proportions of economically disadvantaged students tend to have more teacher absences than those with either extremely high or extremely low poverty levels.
Some teacher characteristics are associated with higher rates of attendance.
- Teachers with tenure were absent on average 1 day more than teachers without tenure.
- Teachers with more than 10 years of experience were absent on average 4 days more than first year teachers.
- Teachers in middle school or high school were on average absent for a day more than teachers in elementary school or preschool.
DISTRICTS THAT STAND OUT
Several districts stand out for having high rates of excellent
teacher attendance or low rates of chronic teacher absenteeism.
- DC Public Schools and Denver Public Schools had the largest percentage of teachers with excellent attendance (34% and 31% respectively). DC Public Schools also stood out as the district with both the lowest average number of teacher absences (less than 7 days), and the highest teacher attendance rate (97%).
- Newark Public Schools had the smallest percentage of teachers with excellent attendance (2%) and the largest percentage of teachers with chronic absenteeism (40%). Newark Public Schools also stood out as the district with the largest average number of teacher absences (over 16 days) and the lowest attendance rate (91.2%).
- Fresno Unified School District and New York City Department of Education had the lowest percentage of teachers with chronic absenteeism: 5%.
- Nine districts had more than 20% of teachers with excellent attendance.
- On the other hand, four districts (Newark Public Schools, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Orange County Public Schools, and Phoenix Union High School District) had more than 20% of teachers with chronic absenteeism.
COMPARISON OF TEACHER AND CENTRAL OFFICE STAFF ATTENDANCE
No significant common patterns of absenteeism were observed when comparing a district's teachers and central office staff.
- Within a district, central office staff was overall more likely to have either excellent attendance or chronic absenteeism, whereas teachers were more likely to have more moderate attendance patterns.
- The main reason for teacher absences was sick leave, while the main reason for central office staff absences was personal leave. This is likely due to the fact that central office staff take vacation days (classified as personal leave), which is not built into the school year for staff on a 12-month contract.
With the data received from 30 districts, we studied the relationships between a teacher's attendance and personal characteristics, school characteristics, and district characteristics and policies, that can affect attendance outcomes. See the Correlations report here.
Teachers, working on a 10-month contract (average of 187 days) were categorized according to their attendance record as:
- Excellent attendance - up to 3 days absent in the school year
- Moderately absent - between 4 and 10 days absent in the school year
- Frequently absent - between 11 and 18 days absent in the school year
- Chronically absent - 18 days of absence or more during the school year
Central office staff on a 12-month contract (average of 260 days) was categorized according to their attendance record as:
- Excellent attendance - up to 14 days absent in the school year
- Moderately absent - between 15 and 21 days absent in the school year
- Frequently absent - between 22 and 28 days absent in the school year
- Chronically absent - 29 days of absence or more during the school year
Central office staff categories were adjusted to reflect the differences in average number of days in the contract between teachers and central office staff as well as consideration for vacation days included or not included in those respective contracts.
For more details on the data utilized and the definitions of concepts used in this report, see the full Methodology.
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. [ack]
Kate Walsh, Shannon Holston, Hannah Putman, Kency Nittler
Additional data analysts
Tirza Buelto, Joey Poole
Advocacy and communications
Nicole Gerber, Ashley Kincaid, Andrea Browne Taylor
Philadelphia School Partnership
The Abell Foundation
The Zeist Foundation
Suggested Citation: Saenz-Armstrong, P. (2020). Roll Call 2020. National Council on Teacher Quality.