Chronic Teacher Absenteeism Hits Some NYC Schools, Districts Hard

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Murphy

Bronx teacher absentee rates, per data from the U.S. DOE’s 2015-2016 survey. See charts below.

This is the second article in a five-part series .


Nearly one in five teachers who work in New York City Department of Education public schools were absent more than 10 times in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights .

A City Limits analysis of the most recent release of the OCR’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection found that 19.3 percent of teachers in New York City schools exceeded 10 absent days during the 2015-16 school year. The OCR collects data on most public schools in the nation, offering a snapshot for each school—compiling data on each school’s student enrollment and attendance rates, and demographic information on each school’s student population, including (but not limited to) race/ethnicity, sex, and what percentage of students qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunch.

With the accompany map and search tool, you can see the percentage of teacher absenteeism by school district and borough, and you can search for statistics on any individual school, including the total number of teachers, the number of teachers absent over 10 days and the student enrollment for the school.

Rates vary among districts, boroughs

Staten Island had the highest percentage of absent teachers of any borough, with 21.4 percent of teachers absent more than 10 days in the year. Manhattan had the lowest rate of absenteeism, at 14.9 percent.

The percentages of absent teachers varied significantly between some school districts; District 30, which includes much of Long Island City, Astoria and Jackson Heights in Queens, had the highest percentage, at 25.2 percent, followed by District 75, which spans the city and works with students requiring significant special needs and services, at 25.1 percent. Manhattan’s District 1, which includes much of the Lower East Side, had the lowest rate at 13.1 percent.

Absentee rates also ranged between districts in each borough; in Manhattan, Districts 1 through 4, which span from Wall Street to the southern parts of east and west Harlem, all had absentee rates below 14.2 percent. However, District 5, which encompasses much of Harlem north of 123rd Street, had a teacher absentee rate of 20.7 percent, and District 6’s rate was 17.2 percent (District 6 includes much of western upper Manhattan, including Washington Heights and Inwood).

Within the Bronx, attendance rates skewed higher, from a low of 16.2 percent in District 7, which includes much of Mott Haven and Port Morris, to a high of 19.2 percent in neighboring District 12, which includes parts of Tremont, West Farms and Parkchester. In Brooklyn, the highest rates were found in District 21, which includes parts of Midwood, Gravesend and Brighton Beach, at 22.7 percent; District 32, including Bushwick and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, had a rate of 22.1 percent, while District 23, which includes much of Brownsville, stood at 21.4 percent.

Absentee rates per district were highest in the borough of Queens; every district’s rate exceeded 19.5 percent besides District 26, which includes Bayside, Little Neck and much of northeastern Queens; its absentee rate was 14.5 percent.


Rates of chronic teacher absenteeism by NYC school district
2015-2016 school year, per U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights

Disagreements on how to assess teacher absenteeism

The federal data is incomplete, with several schools missing data entirely; this could be for several reasons. Some schools may have opened after the data was collected, and since the OCR requests data from school districts, omissions by the district could inadvertently leave schools unreported.

Even how you define extensive teacher absenteeism is a topic of debate. In the recently-released Mayor’s Management Report on the DOE , the city found that 14.8 percent of teachers were absent more than 11 days in the last school year. A 2014 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that 16 percent of teachers throughout the country were “chronically absent,” which the NCTQ defined as missing more than 17 days in the school year. Though the OCR data counts teachers with a lower number of absences, it is valuable because it includes information on individual schools rather than by city, state or nationwide.

When attendance is an accountability measure, it is usually student absenteeism being measured. Studies indicate that approximately 14 percent of the nation’s students are “chronically” absent (also defined as missing 10 or more days each year). In the past year, many states incorporated student attendance metrics into plans submitted to the federal government detailing how the state intends to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (passed in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind Act). States began submitting implementation proposals in April of last year, and in September 2017, The74Million reported that 37 states had included chronic student absenteeism as a metric, including New York.

Thus far, teacher absenteeism has comparatively little weight as an accountability measure in ESSA plans; only Rhode Island included chronic absenteeism rates for students and teachers as a measure of school performance, according to FutureEd. Teacher attendance is infrequently included in-state accountability methods; only New Mexico includes it as a measure of performance in its teacher evaluation system.

But research indicates that missing teachers can have a pronounced impact on student performance, with a teacher absentee rate of 10 days leading to a decrease in student achievement that is “equivalent to the difference between having a brand new teacher and one with two or three years more experience,” according to the NCTQ . Combined, the 40 districts analyzed in the report spent about $424 million on substitute teachers to cover for absences, approximately $1,800 per teacher.

Rates differ between schools in same districts

Absentee rates could range from district to district, as well as among schools within districts, illustrating the difficulty of trying to address any issues with absenteeism on a district level. For example, in District 21, which includes Coney Island and Brighton Beach, 34 of the 40 teachers at P.S. KK25 were absent more than 10 days, according to federal data, while six of the 50 teachers at P.S. 90, located in the same district, were marked as absent more than 10 days.

Charter schools, on average, had lower teacher absenteeism rates than public schools, at 8.4 percent, though data for many charter schools was unavailable. Several charter schools had extremely high rates of absenteeism, however: The Opportunity Charter School in Queens and the New Dawn Charter High School in Brooklyn both had more than half of their teachers absent more than 10 days during the 2015 school year.

The data also does not reveal the reasons behind absences. Educators often are in close contact with other staff and with students, leading to situations where it is easier to transmit illness. Teachers who must commute long distances tend to be absent more often, and teachers might be absent due to professional development demands that take them out of the classroom. Elizabeth Combs, the Managing Director of the Frontline Research & Learning Institute, wrote in December 2017 that a national analysis of schools found that “17 percent of all staff absences and a whopping 22 percent of teacher absences are actually a result of professional obligations outside the classroom such as professional learning, alternative assignments, or other work-related tasks that take teachers away from instruction.”

Combs also noted that teachers have a comparable rate of attendance compared to other professions, suggesting that there is no nationwide issue of chronic absenteeism, but rather that certain schools, districts or educators may face teacher attendance issues with more frequency.

Certain school districts throughout the country have applied various attempts at fixes to chronic attendance issues with myriad levels of success.

Paying teachers for unused sick time at retirement is one of the more common practices, and some districts like in Milwaukee, Providence and Seattle apply the same practice of paying for unused sick days at the end of a school year, according to the 2014 Roll Call report. During the 2012-13 school year, 10 districts, including Louisville, Newark and the District of Columbia, did use teacher attendance as a metric in gauging teacher performance.

The Center for American Progress also stressed the importance of putting parental and medical leave policies in place so that teachers can take the time to care for a new child or themselves without feeling they need to accrue unexpected absentee time; such a policy will embolden teachers to work with administrators to have a more consistent substitute presence in the classroom that may help to offset any danger students may have of falling behind in the interim.

Finally, the Lee County School District in Florida created a “teacher wellness” program , with a focus on reducing stress, addressing nutrition and weight issues and even incorporating an exercise gym for use by district staff.


Chronic Teacher Absentee Rates: The Schools
The maps below use data from the U.S. DOE’s 2015-2016 statistical set. Schools with incomplete data or ambiguous address information were omitted.

Bronx

Brooklyn

Manhattan

Queens

Staten Island


This series was made possible through a grant by Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION).

2 thoughts on “Chronic Teacher Absenteeism Hits Some NYC Schools, Districts Hard

  1. I’m wondering about the impact of performance measures. Do schools with a big focus on teaching to the tests experience greater teacher burnout that showed up in absenteeism?

    I think this data is important, but i’d like to hear the teachers viewed on it, and look to problems in the system, structure versus blaming individuals.

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