New York school district experiences record-high teacher absences last week

May 22, 2013 by

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas recently emailed teachers with a simple query: What’s up with all of the absences?

Vargas sent the email Friday, when 734 teachers were not in class. It marked a seven-year high for teacher absences.

“According to the district, about 10 percent of the 734 absences were teachers assigned to ‘scoring tests, taking professional development courses or leading field trips, along with vacant positions,’” reports.

Even after deducting those planned absences, the unplanned teacher absence rate was about 15 percent – which is nearly double the average. Union officials blamed the time off on stress and other issues, including a new evaluation system, the new Common Core curriculum and students.

“Everything being piled on teachers right now has created such an atmosphere of stress and anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, that some teachers need the time off just to regroup,” Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski told the news site.

The union boss’ excuses don’t hold much water considering the weekend was only one day away. We suspect that the teacher absences likely are a combination of factors that include warm spring weather, the lure of a long weekend, high school graduations, and other spring commitments that are convincing educators to take it easy.

But research also suggests that teachers generally take days off directly before or after a weekend more often than any other days. Researchers have also illustrated that the number of days off awarded to teachers each year influences the number of days they take off. In Rochester, teachers get 10 sick days and 2 personal days each year, which is relatively modest for unionized school employees, although much more than most private sector workers when one factors in the 180-day school work year.

In other words, Rochester teachers can take off 1.3 days per month, not including approved absences for professional development or teacher conferences. That reality is costing the district $11.5 million per year for substitute teachers, reports.

Vargas explained in his email to teachers that “Reducing absences must be our shared goal, if we are to improve academic achievement and provide a stable educational environment for students.”

It’s a fact that every day spent with a substitute teacher is day of virtually no learning for students.

The superintendent invited teachers to share their thoughts on why so many educators have been missing work lately, and what can be done to reduce unnecessary absences.

Vargas’ approach is interesting in that he will garner direct feedback from teachers without the union filter, which will no doubt provide a more accurate insight into the true reasons behind the problem.

That understanding will be critical if he wants to ensure teachers are in class when they’re supposed to be.

New York school district experiences record-high teacher absences last week – :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary.

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