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Here’s a puzzle for you: Why would a school district that spends among the most per student in the nation be the same school district with an alarmingly high rate of teachers calling in sick?
And what might it say about the effect of high spending on teacher accountability?
This is the Choice Media Ed Reform Minute for Thursday, May 16.
A Choice Media analysis revels a high amount of teacher absenteeism in Asbury Park, New Jersey, for each of the last two school years. The numbers, which include sick and other days off that require the use of substitute teachers, were considerably higher in Asbury Park than at five other mid-size New Jersey school districts during the same period. (The district originally provided the figures to Choice Media’s request for the number of teacher “sick days,” but has subsequently said in press reports that the high demand for substitute teachers also includes teacher vacation and personal days.)
Specifically, teachers in Asbury Park averaged more than 18 absences per teacher for each of the last two completed school years, 2010-11 and 2011-12. The rate was over double that of four other districts, Carteret, Haddonfield, Hazlet and Union Township, all of which averaged no more than 8.5 sick days per teacher in both of the school years studied. The data was collected from Freedom of Information Act requests spanning the two school years of 2010-11 and 2011-12, and the analysis only included districts with faculty sizes of more than 200. The original supporting data is available here. (The original source documents will be made available to media organizations.)
In addition to the statistically aberrational absence rate of teachers, Asbury Park stands apart for another reason, its spending. According to data from the New Jersey Department of Education, the district spent $30,502 per student in the 2011-12 school year, putting it among the top spending school districts in the nation.
At least some of that exorbitant spending comes from the cost of hiring substitutes, with Asbury Park spending almost $270,000 per hundred faculty on subs last year, over double the substitute expense per hundred faculty paid by other districts like Haddonfield, Hazlet, Montclair and Union Township.
When teachers claim lots of sick days, there’s more than a financial cost. Research has shown that a high reliance on substitute teachers produces a devastating impact on children’s education. Duke University researchers Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd, and Jacob Vigdor studied data from North Carolina schools and concluded that being taught by a sub for just 10 days in a year degrades a kid’s math score more than if that kid had changed schools, and about half as much as the effect of poverty. One of the Duke researchers, Charles Clotfelter, also says this.
We do find that the number of absences, teacher absences, tends to go up in low-income schools. Looking at the data we really can’t infer what the reason is. All we can say is that it’s associated.
There are other studies suggesting many public school teacher absences, usually recorded as sick days, are actually discretionary. Harvard researchers Raegan T. Miller, Richard J. Murnane and John B. Willett using data from a large, urban district in the Northeast, found that teachers in that district consistently called in sick more often on Fridays and Mondays, 6.6% and 5.7% respectively, than Tuesdays or Wednesdays, 4.9% and 5.1%. They also found, with other factors held constant, that tenured teachers called in sick an average of 3.7 days per year more than non-tenured teachers.
We gave our data to Jerry Cantrell, President of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, a non-profit research group that studies public policy.
When you look at the number of the days in the year, what is it 180 days in class, and 20 of those they’re average taking off? It’s ludicrous.
Cantrell went on to refer to how the Asbury Park teacher sick days dovetail with other built-in days off for New Jersey public school teachers, including the annual NJEA teacher union convention, scheduled not during the summer but during the fall, and not during a weekend, but on weekdays, thereby canceling school. Here, he refers to the Asbury Park teachers, specifically.
How could you even think in terms of someone appreciating their job when they’re taking that much time off. They’re off all summer, they take every known holiday to man, and the teachers’ convention is in the middle of there. So it’s got to be kind of difficult to get yourself out of bed I would suspect. And maybe that’s the problem.
The next NJEA convention will be November 7-8, 2013, a Thursday and Friday.
All the day’s news in education reform available at ChoiceMedia.TV.