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Report: High Teacher-Absentee Rates Hurt Schools

Thirty-six percent of teachers nationwide missed more than 10 days of school during the 2009-10 year, according to an analysis of federal data by the Washington-based Center for American Progress.

Rhode Island had the highest percentage of teachers missing more than 10 days with 50.2, while Utah had the lowest with 20.2.

The analysis, based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, also found that teachers in traditional public schools are absent more than 10 times per year at a rate that is 15 percent higher than teachers in charter schools.

The report says that, due to administrative expenses and substitute pay, teacher absences cost schools "a minimum of $4 billion annually." It also also cites research finding that "every 10 absences" lowers "average mathematics achievement equivalent to the difference between having a novice teacher and one with a bit more experience."

Noting that teacher-absentee rates tend to be greater in schools with high percentages of minority students, the report adds that "it's plausible that [racial] achievement gaps can be attributed, in part, to a teacher attendance gap."

While acknowledging that the high-stress and close-quartered nature of teachers work may explain some absences, the report encourages schools to adopt policies and incentives that "discourage frivolous use of paid leave." Teachers tend to be absent less often, for example, when they are required to notify their principal by telephone when they are going to be out. Balancing short-term leave privileges with income insurance for designated longer-term options can also be effective, the report says.

Noting that teacher-absentee rates can vary widely within individual districts, the report also suggests that above-average absence levels may point to the need for changes in a school's culture.

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