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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Average teacher misses 6 percent of school year

A new national report on teacher attendance concludes that, on average, teachers show up for 94 percent of the school year.

In Seattle, one of 40 large districts included in the report, teachers show up at a slightly higher rate  — 95 percent of the time.

That may seem like a good attendance rate, and the report’s author, the National Council on Teacher Quality, doesn’t dispute that. But the group says there is a problem hiding in those averages — that 16 percent of teachers are absent 18 days a year or more.

In Seattle, about 13 percent of teachers fell into the chronically absent category in 2012-13, the group said.

Screen shot from the National Council on Teacher Quality report

Screen shot from the National Council on Teacher Quality report

One wrinkle in the data is the fact the Council included district-approved training days as well as days missed for illness and family emergencies. That means it’s hard to tell whether a district has a high rate of teacher absences because  staff take a lot of mental health days or because the district requires a lot of training during school hours.

The Council said about 20 percent of the absences it examined were for district-approved activities, and that it included them because any absence — approved or not – affects student learning. The group recommended that training sessions be scheduled after school hours instead.

It should be noted: The Council is a national advocacy group that pushes for changes in policies for teacher hiring, training and compensation. On its website, the group says it was founded in 2000 “to provide an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations and to … challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession.”

In 2009, the group wrote a report on Seattle teacher policies that drew criticism from the local teachers union, which questioned recommendations that included paying teachers based on student performance.  Last year, the group produced a controversial evaluation that blasted the quality of teacher-training programs, including those in Washington state.

Jonathan Knapp, the Seattle Education Association’s current president, questioned the fairness of the latest report, saying the Council is “more about creating a sense of crisis than about understanding something at a deep level.”

A fair report, he said, wouldn’t lump absences for training with absences due to illness. And a fair report, he said, “would also do some research into the fact that teachers are exposed to more illness than any profession that is not in the healthcare sector.”

More details from the report:

Seattle ranked 16th of the 40 districts in the percent of teachers with “excellent” attendance, with 18.5 percent missing three or fewer days. The 40-district average was 16 percent.

Seattle also ranked in about the middle when it came to average days missed per school year — 10 per teacher here, versus 11 nationally.

Seattle was one of the districts where teachers took less leave for medical and personal reasons than they are allowed.

The Council excluded long-term absences that lasted 11 days in a row or more, so that long-term medical leaves didn’t distort what was happening with typical teachers.

Comments | More in News | Topics: National Council on Teacher Quality, Seattle Public Schools, teacher attendance

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