New study: Charter school teachers less likely to call in sick than peers in regular schools

A new study finds 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss 11 or more days of school for illness or personal reasons. In contrast, the figure for teachers in charter schools is 10.3 percent.
(AJC File)

A new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looks at the number of teachers who miss 11 or more days of work a year and compares the absentee rates in charter schools and regular public schools. The study finds teachers in charters are less likely to miss school.

On average, U.S. teachers miss about eight school days a year due to sick and personal leave; the average American worker takes about three-and-a-half sick days a year. But Fordham classified more than a quarter of teachers as “chronically absent,” meaning they miss more than 10 days. The study found variances in absentee rates across states and districts and between charter schools and district ones.

A self-described conservative group, Fordham is a major supporter of charter schools and sponsors charters in Ohio.

Study author David Griffith says there’s a cultural component to which teachers are absent, writing in the report, “Many charter schools are founded on the premise that ‘no excuses’ will be tolerated from either students or teachers. And in keeping with that ideal, this study shows that chronic absenteeism is almost nonexistent at some of the nation’s leading charter networks.”

Among his findings:

•Teachers in traditional public schools are three times as likely as teachers in charter schools to be chronically absent: 28.3 percent vs. 10.3 percent.

•In the 10 largest districts, teachers in traditional public schools are four times as likely to be chronically absent.

•Gaps are largest in the states where districts are required to bargain collectively, but charters are not required to do so. (Only about one in 10 charter schools has a teacher’s union. )

In Georgia, the gap between teacher absences in charter and traditional schools is not as wide. Regular public school teachers are about 1.5 times more likely than charter school teachers to be chronically absent: 27.8 percent versus 20.8 percent. (Georgia does not have collective bargaining.)

The study doesn’t definitively link unions and collective bargaining with higher absenteeism, saying, “Suffice it to say that, although there is no clear relationship between collective bargaining laws and teacher chronic absenteeism in district schools, the gap between charter and district teachers is smallest in states where collective bargaining is illegal (such as Georgia and Texas), and in states where charters are legally bound to district contracts (such as Alaska).”

Writing today in Fordham’s Flypaper blog about his study, Griffith says:

Specifically, a 10-day increase in teacher absenteeism is associated with the loss of about six to 10 days of learning in English language arts and about 15 to 25 days of learning in math. In other words, kids learn almost nothing—and possibly less than nothing—when their teacher of record isn’t there.

There are roughly 100,000 public schools in the United States, with over 3 million public school teachers and at least 50 million students. So every year, at least 800,000 teachers in the U.S. are chronically absent, meaning they miss about 9 million days of school between them, resulting in roughly 1 billion instances in which a kid comes to class to find that his or her time is, more often than not, being wasted (or if you prefer, about a billion hours of wasted class time, since students in the early grades don’t have “periods”).

Here are Griffith’s recommendations:

  1. Don’t force charter schools to abide by district collective bargaining agreements.
  2. Reduce the number of paid sick and/or personal days teachers are guaranteed. Data from the National Council on Teacher Quality show that the average CBA entitles teachers to nearly 13 days of paid sick and/or personal leave per 180-day school year (or the equivalent of 16 days over the typical professional’s 225-day work year). Moreover, there is a clear link between the amount of paid leave teachers get and their odds of being chronically absent. So if we want to reduce those odds, we need to give teachers less paid leave.
  3. Give teachers maternity leave and disability insurance instead of letting them “carry over” their unused sick days from one year to the next.
  4. Hire a sub. Amazingly, research suggests that less than half of short-term absences are covered by a substitute, even when administrators are notified of the absence well in advance.
  5. Include teacher chronic absenteeism as a non-academic indicator of school quality.

I’ve been reading reactions to the study, most of which point out teachers are being labeled “chronically absent” for using the time off they are entitled to under their employment contracts. Critics also contend that low-income parents who cannot afford to miss work are more prone to send their children to school sick, so teachers are more apt to catch pink eye or the flu.

I thought this comment from Education Week was worth sharing:

There’s no mention in this article of turnover rates between regular public and charter schools. The “churn” at charters is a feature, not a bug, right? Young, underpaid, inexperienced teachers at charters get burned out and leave. Teachers with contracts take “mental health” days, and they take days off to grade, to take their kids to college, to prepare for weddings or funerals, to sit with dying parents, etc. Public school teachers are “lifers,” in for the long haul, and all that a life fully led brings with it. Many charters demand their “at will” teachers not only show up every day, putting in 8+ hours at school, but that they also make themselves available to students and parents by phone after hours. There are good reasons for charter burn-out just as there are good reasons for unions and contracts, which are meant to define reasonable expectations for a lifetime of work.

Reader Comments 0

36 comments
Tanya Myers
Tanya Myers

I could not find any indication in the executive summary to suggest that the researcher adjusted for the age of teachers. I suspect that some of this is simply due to a younger workforce in charters, and unless this is adjusted for, the results are essentially meaningless.

Kim Reining-Gray
Kim Reining-Gray

Word to any wise teacher. Certainly take care of yourself but sick days turn into time when you near retirement. This from a 29 year educator who has a year of extra service

Tricia Vasquez
Tricia Vasquez

I will not be shamed for using my benefits!\U0001f621

Georgia Association of Educators
Georgia Association of Educators

As mentioned in Maureen’s blog, here in Georgia we are not aware of such a wide absentee chasm between public and charter school teachers.

Mary Lindsey Lewis
Mary Lindsey Lewis

Different working conditions....selected students and the ability to send "problem" children back to public school.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings


The only people taking public money for private profit are the people working four days and being paid for five.

JKToole
JKToole

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings Vouchers for private schools or tax dollars for the 13 percent of charter schools run solely by for-profit entities  isn't exemplary of "taking public money for private profit " ?

Why is that?

Astropig
Astropig

@JKToole @Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


Georgia doesn't have vouchers.The entities that you mention don't just "take public money"-They provide an education. In most (but not all cases) a darn good one.


Try again.Try harder.

JKToole
JKToole

@Astropig OK I will. Pardon. Let me re-frame: "Nationally, vouchers for private schools or tax dollars for the 13 percent of charter schools run solely by for-profit entities  isn't exemplary of "taking public money for private profit " ?

I fail to see how this isn't an example of "taking public money for private profit "?

You're taking tax dollars, public money, and giving it to a private business regardless of what they provide.

Do you support the AHCA?

JKToole
JKToole

@Astropig @JKToole @MaryElizabethSings "In general, urban charter schools may appear to be a good alternative to traditional urban schools for urban minority students in poor neighborhoods, if one looks strictly at test scores, but students in suburban charter schools do no better than those in traditional suburban schools serving a mostly middle-class white population."

Susan Dynarski (November 20, 2015). "Urban Charter Schools Often Succeed. Suburban Ones Often Don’t."The New York Times.

zzyzx
zzyzx

Really??? This is just another study to find ways to bash public schools, give me a break. I'll tell you why absenteeism may be higher in public schools than Charter schools, and i've done the research so here goes; 


Public school have more experienced teachers that have been in the classroom  longer and the average age coincides with around when families are being started. So teachers in public schools tend to have more babies, toddlers and children of their own who get sick etc...Most of these absences are for their families, not themselves. Charter School teachers are more likely to be younger, fresh out of college, not married and less likely to have children that get sick and  need to stay home. 


You might want to research the attrition rate of teachers in Charters versus public. Teachers in charter schools don't stay around very long, so forget about being absent, Charter teachers just quit and stop showing up altogether. I have sources if you want to see them.

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

When I retire, probably in 5 years, I will be able to trade in my accumulated sick leave for credit. I have enough credit for a year. I don't know ANY teachers who 'ride' sickcall. Taking time off for any reason is a pain for obvious reasons. BUT I know you deplorables like these type of articles so carry on.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Left out of the study is the number of public school teachers who get overwhelmed with bureaucratic requirements and thus might take time off just to catch up.

Teresa Wilkinson Pawlik
Teresa Wilkinson Pawlik

The Charter school students-FOR THE MOST PART- are a chosen group. It is tough to teach a child who gets beaten by drunken parents and doesn't have enough to eat. Teacher burn out in inner city schools is rampant. I know because I was there.

Astropig
Astropig

"Chronic absenteeism" will get you fired in anything but a government job.


 It sounds like their teaching duties are seriously intruding on these teachers busy lives.

JKToole
JKToole

@Astropig  I don't know about firing people, but the annual $ losses in productivity caused by chronic absenteeism are far greater in the private sector than they are in the public sector.

https://tinyurl.com/yawqtttk

Astropig
Astropig

@JKToole @Astropig


Can you cite any source for this assertion,or are you just pulling numbers from a very dark place?


For comparison sake,in the really bad old days of GM history (1982) absenteeism at their worst facility (Fremont, California) was right at 21%,on average.They built cars with some of the worst quality scores ever seen at General Motors.


Chronic absenteeism affects the quality of the product or service delivered.It is usually indicative of a toxic atmosphere that pits the interests of workers and their management against one another.This study would suggest that charter teachers see their interests as being aligned with the students and parents-a quality education that benefits both.

JKToole
JKToole

@Astropig @JKToole There is a link in my original comment, I thought it was obvious enough. I will post it here again.

Below is a link to an article pertaining to productivity $ lost due to chronic absenteeism. 

https://tinyurl.com/yawqtttk

I didn't realize that GM was part of the public sector.


Astropig
Astropig

@JKToole @Astropig


So you are making the case of chronic absenteeism? Show up if you feel like it-stay home if you don't?


Yeah-that benefits kids.Keep doing that.

JKToole
JKToole

@Astropig @JKToole No, I am answering your questions and trying to correct the false narrative you implied in your comment "Chronic absenteeism" will get you fired in anything but a government job."

That certainly doesn't appear to be true. Can you cite any source for this assertion,or are you just pulling numbers from a very dark place?

Misinformation presented as fact benefits no one - including children.


Astropig
Astropig

@DrProudBlackMan @JKToole


Gosh Doc, you're in a worse mood than usual today.Lighten up,bro.Nobody's going to lose their precious job over this study.It will all be good.

John Nemeth
John Nemeth

Or to rephrase your headline: "Public School teachers use their benefits".

redweather
redweather

There will always be people who abuse the sick/personal leave time policies, but it sounds like a lot of them are teachers.

If you're not willing to show up and do your job, you don't deserve that job. 

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather


Fun with numbers:


13 years of school (12 plus kindergarten) = 2340 days of class @ 180 days per year-(per the legislature)


2340 days times 28% (absenteeism rate)= 655 days lost during public school days=3.63 years of instruction lost (I rounded to whole numbers).


I actually like this.Over time,the lower teacher absenteeism rate at charters will give their students a serious leg up in preparation for college or work.This should create a very positive feedback loop for parental choice.









Liz Yuhas-New
Liz Yuhas-New

I called in sick less often when I taught at a charter school because we had no dedicated sub pool and my class of 28+ students would have to be split between my two teammates' classrooms if I were absent. I do not think "chronic absenteeism" is an issue for the majority of teachers. Too much preparation and stress goes into an absence for it to be a regular occurrence.