Our Editorial: Too many teachers skipping class

The Detroit News

Students aren’t the only ones skipping class, according to a new report. Many teachers are, too. That poses problems for obvious reasons. As Michigan looks to improve its standing in education, this is something the state simply must solve.

The report, “Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools,” was published by the Fordham Institute, and took a deep dive through teacher absenteeism numbers collected by the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

The state’s Education Department doesn’t collect or track those same numbers. But clearly it should. The report indicates a quarter of the state’s public school teachers are chronically absent.

Education reform and policy advocates often point to student attendance as an important measure of a school’s performance, and attendance is closely linked to a student’s likelihood of graduating. Students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District have one of the highest rates of absenteeism in the country, with around 60 percent of kids missing 15 days or more a year.

But not much attention, at least on a statewide level, is put on teacher attendance.

Michigan teachers aren’t the only ones taking extra time off. It’s a nationwide problem.

In their introduction to the report, Fordham’s Michael Petrilli and Amber Northern ask: “Why would we hold schools to account for the attendance of their students but not of their own teachers? How can anyone expect students to learn when their teachers are absent?”

Those are excellent questions, especially in light of what the numbers show. Petrilli and Northern also point to the strong link between teachers and their students’ learning. If teachers skip 10 days of school in a school year, then students are missing out on 10 days of learning, they write.

That’s a significant loss, considering most school calendars are 180 days.

School districts and unions are to thank for negotiating perks into teachers’ contracts that allow for so many days off. For instance, most teachers get at least 10-12 sick and personal days per year, so why not use them?

That’s also why teachers at traditional public schools are on average nearly three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools, where most teachers aren’t unionized.

Here’s some of the report’s key findings:

■“28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss 11 or more days of school for illness or personal reasons. For teachers in charter schools, 10.3 percent are frequently absent.” And those days missed are in addition to the summer and holiday breaks and federal holidays.

■In Michigan, 24.7 percent of traditional public school teachers are chronically absent, compared to 12.4 percent of charter school teachers. Eleven other states have similar discrepancies.

■“Nationally, teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in non-unionized charters.”

So collective bargaining and unions that protect teachers from the consequences of skipping school may be behind the trend.

This isn’t meant to cast a bad light on teachers. Most work hard and likely have valid reasons for taking the occasional day off. But taken as a whole — and given their integral role in student learning — this is too much time for teachers to be missing.