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Report: RI Teacher Absenteeism Worst in America

Saturday, February 16, 2013


A new report by US Department of Education says more than half of RI teachers miss more than 10 days in a school year.

Five months after a GoLocalProv review of attendance records showed that one out of every five teachers in Providence missed at least 20 days of school in the previous year, a new national study has revealed that teacher absenteeism wasn’t just a district-wide problem but one plaguing the entire Ocean State.

In fact, the problem is so bad that Rhode Island has the absolute worst rate of teacher absenteeism in the whole country.

In the first-ever review of such data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, a whopping 50.2 percent of Rhode Island teachers were reported as having missed more than 10 days in a “typical 180-day school year” during 2012.

That was good enough for the top spot in the nationwide ranking as Rhode Island beat out Hawaii (49.6%), Arkansas (48.5%), New Mexico (47.5%) and Michigan (45.6%) for the dubious distinction.

“It is astonishing and deeply disturbing to see data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showing that Rhode Island has the highest rate of teacher absenteeism in the nation,” said Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.”Unexpected teacher absences can disrupt instruction, and repeated teacher absences can set back the process of teaching and learning. Last year, we identified 29 schools as either “focus” or “priority” schools, and we have required each school to develop a turnaround plan and put that plan into action. We are monitoring these plans, and we expect to see immediate improvement in several key, leading indicators – including improvements in teacher-attendance rates.”

For Providence school teacher Carole Marshall, the results aren’t surprising.

“It's really a problem,” she said. “Students, especially in the urban schools, are desperately in need of continuity in their studies and they have no time to waste, which is what happens when teachers are out. Also, students need models for responsible professional behavior. How can we expect them to come to school daily if they are facing substitutes day after day? There's also the emotional and psychological aspect of the problem; it can easily feel like abandonment when a teacher is out frequently.”

Perhaps most troubling is that it appears the problem is actually on the rise.

An Alarming Trend

According to an analysis of data from the 2009 school year by the Rhode Island Foundation, RI was second to Hawaii three years ago with a percentage of 47.7, nearly five points lower than the Aloha State’s 52.6.

In that report, Woonsocket had the state’s worst percentage as nearly three out of every four teachers in that district, or a total of 72.2 percent, had missed more than 10 days of schools in the 2009 school year.
Central Falls (64.9), Providence (56.9) and Pawtucket (50.7) were right behind Woonsocket during that year and

Marshall says it’s been a “longstanding problem” for urban teachers.

“In Providence, there's been more than a decade of churning of the leadership, the mandates and the models; it's very hard to work within all that chaos,” she said. “People get overwhelmed.”

Marshall believes the problem “may be worse than ever” because teachers are being forced to follow mandates without question and without concern to what effect they might have on students.

“As professionals who've agreed to work in poor physical environments and often difficult situations,” she said. “It's quite demoralizing to feel the level of disrespect for teachers, not only from the general public but also from administrators.”

In a report on the subject from USA Today, absent teachers are estimated to cost schools at least $4 billion a year, or one percent of schools’ budgets.

What’s the Solution?

RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist says the state will find a solution to its chronic absenteeism problem.

Gist says chronic absenteeism is a subject the Rhode Island Department of Education takes very seriously.

“As I have said many times, the single most important school-based factor affecting student achievement is the effectiveness of the classroom teacher,” Gist said. “As we work together to transform education in Rhode Island, we need to have great teachers in every classroom, every day.”

Marshall says fixing the issue involves communicating directly with the teachers involved.

Pointing to a program initiated by RIDE in the mid-90s at Hope High School where teachers “were allowed to create a strategic plan for school improvement and then were given support to follow it,” Marshall says she saw first-hand how teachers were energized and looked forward to going to school.

“It was messy but we eventually created three small learning communities with a dedicated guidance counselor for each community, a portfolio-based graduation requirement, longer periods for more depth of learning, school-wide rubrics, literacy across the curriculum, and time for teachers to plan together,” she said. “All this led to teachers who were energized, dedicated, and willing to work hard to become better at their profession. Hope's teachers went above and beyond their job requirements for those years.”

Finding a way to spark that kind of effort of all of Rhode Island teachers may reduce the state’s absenteeism rate.

“Teachers like everyone else want to be proud of what they do and that is what gets them up in the morning and ready to roll,” Marshall said.

Gist also commends the teachers in Rhode Island and says that she believes the vast majority are “truly dedicated every day to the hard work of teaching their students” and improving the state’s school.

And the latest report will be one RIDE pays special attention to.

“We will review the data that the Office for Civil Rights has reported for comparison with data from our school districts to get a complete picture of the rates of teacher absenteeism,” she said. “Because of my unwavering commitment to ensuring that we have excellent educators in every Rhode Island school, I cannot and will not accept that half of our teachers miss more than ten days of school per year. Our students deserve better.”


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The worst in everything list continues!

Comment #1 by anthony sionni on 2013 02 16

General Rochambeau told General Washington if the troops do not have Morale we can not Win.

Comment #2 by THOMAS Murray on 2013 02 16

I taught in public schools for 34 years and retired with 170 unused sick days, it's not everyone.

Comment #3 by mary messier on 2013 02 16

I would feel so frustrated working as a teacher. Imagine - you aren't reaching all the kids and yet you're prevented from changing anything by State, Federal and your contract's rules. To top it off you know most people struggle to pay their property taxes, but the parents of the failing kids can't find the time to meet with you.......... despite the fortune the School Department spends on each of their offspring. It sure must be hard to stay energized and show up for the battle everyday.
(When those kids realize they're getting nothing out of it, they stop showing up too.)

Comment #4 by a y on 2013 02 16

It's all about the kids...

Comment #5 by James Hackett on 2013 02 16

keep voting democrat and this is what you get

Comment #6 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 16

Rhode Island seems to be "WORST" in every measurable category. A big 'thank you' to the public sector unions and all the Democrats they control, for this horrendous mess we affectionately call a 'state'.

Comment #7 by Dave Johnson on 2013 02 16

Reduce sick days to 3 per year and do not pay teachers or staff for any days missed beyond those three. I guarantee that attendance will improve dramatically as the only incentive is loss of pay. Nothing else works.

Comment #8 by KENNETH PROUDFOOT on 2013 02 16

Worst in everything, best in nothing. Hey, I know the problem! We just don't have enough democrats or democratic policies. That's the problem. Even though RI has been clenched in the democrat's iron fist for 65 years, and has done nothing but fail since, the republicans are OBVIOUSLY to blame. Good job, RI. Keep it up. *slow applause* Retards.

Comment #9 by John Conservative on 2013 02 16

Kenneth Proudfoot: Yeah great idea. Good luck getting the nazi unions to agree to that. Unions are (and always have been) the problem.

Comment #10 by John Conservative on 2013 02 16

"Gist says chronic absenteeism is a subject the Rhode Island Department of Education takes very seriously."

If this statement is true, then how did teacher attendance DECLINE over the past five years to #50?!?

Therefore, this is NOT a true statement, or some action would have been taken when we were at #47.

Please explain.

Comment #11 by KENNETH PROUDFOOT on 2013 02 16

Kenneth, they won't explain because they can't. Nor do they want to. As long as the union boss' pockets are being lined, and everyone has their cushy state jobs, nobody cares.

Comment #12 by John Conservative on 2013 02 16

some of you are so damn stupid! IT'S NOT DEMOCRATS. that is obvious. maybe if anyone in this godforsaken state PAID ATTENTION TO POLITICS in the first place. but NO, this state is full of lazy and rude and ignorant people who vote in the SAME jackass's, letting them make all their decisions behind closed doors. do none of you understand you HAVE TO FORCE transparency? RHODE ISLANDERS NEED TO STOP BEING SO GODDAMN LAZY AND DISINTERESTED. STOP BLAMING THE POLITICIANS, THEY WORK FOR YOU AND YOU VOTE THEM IN. SITTING ON HERE BITCHING DOES NOTHING, BUT THAT IS GOOD OLD LAZY, INCOMPETENT RHODE ISLANDERS FOR YOU! ANYONE WITH ANY SENSE HAS GOTTEN THE HELL OUT OF THIS PLACE FOR A REASON! THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE ARE THE PROBLEM.

and as far not being first in anything? that is also a lie. our food industry is tops in the country in almost all categories.

Comment #13 by jordan wolfe on 2013 02 16

Yeah OK Jordan... LOL Good luck with that, you retard.

Comment #14 by John Conservative on 2013 02 16

Another reason why we need school choice. Also, the majority of teachers are good and need to take control of their unions. The unions should be managed from the bottom up, not the top down.

Comment #15 by Michael Sullivan on 2013 02 16

Michael, the unions need to be outlawed. Plain and simple.

Comment #16 by John Conservative on 2013 02 16

change RI to a right-to-work state and watch the business climate turn. also, restrict days off for teachers and then do not pay them when they exceed those days. common sense solutions that will never be implemented under liberal RI government.

Comment #17 by Mateo C on 2013 02 16

Wouldn't being lumped in with Arkansas be enough to get a fire lit under someone?

Comment #18 by David Beagle on 2013 02 16

Jordan you are clueless, no matter how many capital letters you use. The democrats are controlled by the unions, and they are the ones getting voted in over and over again. This state loves democrats and the master lever. Go and look at the campaign finance reports of most all democrats and you will see the union money coming in. WAKE UP! One party rule is killing our state. Yes, the voters also need to wake up.

Comment #19 by Scott Dickerson on 2013 02 16

I live in Texas, a Republician, right-to-work state, where unions are not strong, where there is the freedom to choose schools . . . and guess what? Absenteeism among teachers is still a problem. I guess you need to come up with some more logical ideas about why your teachers are absent.

Comment #20 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 16

what ranking is texas?

Comment #21 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 16

teachers unions.

Comment #22 by LENNY BRUCE on 2013 02 16

when i was in school it was very rare that our teacher was ever absent.
{those years were the mid 50's - the 70's.} I guess there was a different type of work ethic back then..and a better teacher.

Comment #23 by LENNY BRUCE on 2013 02 16

@jon: I would guess that Texas falls in the 35%. If someone knows the correct data, let me know. @JoJo: On what do you base your teacher union comment? Fact? or Personal bias? Also JoJo: Your comment about the different type of work ethic does not simply apply to teachers. I'd venture to say it is a reflection of a large segment of today's work force. When you consider what today's teachers have to put up with, it's a wonder that we have any teachers at all. Or maybe the statistic that a huge number of educators leave the system by their 5th year of teaching speaks more loudly than the rate of absenteeism. Do the statistics you quote take into account that a large % of teachers are female? Pregnancy, taking care of sick young children, and being exposed to sick students every day plays a huge factor in absentee statistic. I don't see anyone mentioning that. I see the typical teacher bashing, union bashing, etc. Want to be a right-to-work state? How about when your boss simply doesn't like you. You can be fired for no reason at all. That's one of the "wonderful" highlights of being a right-to-work state. Be careful what you wish for.

Comment #24 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 16

Some teachers do get sick, just like Gist did.

Comment #25 by tom brady on 2013 02 17

Not surprised......We rank the worst in just about everything! This is what happens when you have idiots electing other idiots year after year! One would think the light bulb would go off and they would realize Democrats are leeches. Thank the unions. They are here to keep the incompetent and lazy employed.........

Comment #26 by Jenn Palumbo on 2013 02 17

There has to be something good that RI is ranked #1 in. I just can't find it.

Comment #27 by Odd Job on 2013 02 17


Comment #28 by mark lindberg on 2013 02 17

Nina, Is RI the only state with a large percentage of female teachers who become pregnant, take care of their sick children, & are exposed to sick students every day? I'm thinking not. I'm pretty sure that there are other states with large percentages of female teachers, who face similar challanges, yet have better attendance records. Easy job? no way. Thankless? often. but taken advantage of by too many? absolutely. Teachers must average 11 hrs/work day to work the same amount as the "average Joe" (40hrs/wk, 50 wks/yr). Almost all work outside of school hours, but how many average 11 hrs/day?
BTW, good commment lindberg.

Comment #29 by Slappy White on 2013 02 17

Some good points slappy.....But I would like to see the rest of the list. Anybody know where I can get the info? Not saying that it would justify these numbers, but if most of the other states are in the 40% range and we just ended up slightly above then the claim we are the worst in the country, while it would still be true, would be a little less outrageous. Also throwing this out there, I know teachers don't pay into TDI....so if they get surgery for instance, and they are out for 3 months they use their sick days and when they run out they don't get paid.

Comment #30 by Mike Meehen on 2013 02 17

unions run every aspect of state employment in RI.

RIers, keep voting for the dems, and the unions will thank you.

Comment #31 by pearl fanch on 2013 02 17

I would be interested in seeing private school vs. public school teacher absenteeism.

Comment #32 by Art West on 2013 02 17

Just curious about where RI would rank nationally among Education Commissioner absenteeism this year?

Comment #33 by tom brady on 2013 02 17

say all you want but ri is number 50 in the country for teacher absenteeism.

i mean there is something going on here.

can anyone argue with that?

Comment #34 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 17

I was born and raised as a proud Rhode Islander, and miss Newport every day. I'm happy that despite its faults I live in Texas where you'll find a "Texas Proud" attitude. It’s sad that some of you can’t find a single positive point about Rhode Island. What about its beauty, rich history, people who know and will help their neighbors, that ability to stand up for what is right, those unions that kept many of you working and making a living wage. Go ahead and vote in a right-to-work government. You’ll watch your salaries drop, you’ll be denied due process or it your lucky enough to have a contract, you’ll receive due process . . . and lose your job anyway.
One of the most recent articles I’ve read about teacher absenteeism is in USA Today, and you can find it on line. Stop the teacher bashing. I’m personally sick of it. If you want to experience what teachers put up with, I encourage you to substitute in a public school classroom. Your eyes will be opened and your mouths will close. You have to be a special person to put up with what today’s classroom contains. And I’m not simply criticizing the children; there is so much more involved. Why are teachers absent? Besides the fact that there are far more women in the teaching profession who will have children and will stay home when they are sick, teachers are exposed to sick children every day. I don’t trust simple numbers as presented in any article because they are so easy to skew. The question that needs to be answered is WHY are teachers absent? You have to dig to the heart of the matter before you condemn the whole system.
Teachers’ salaries are always such a point of consternation. Why is that? In life you get what you pay for. My husband, who is not a teacher, has virtually as many “vacation” days as teachers do but his days are paid. His salary is much better than a teacher can hope to earn. No one criticizes him for the money he earns; he’s respected. Why do people continue to believe that the very people who dedicate their lives to teach their children deserve less?

Comment #35 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 17

@Nina-If you live in Texas now then you know how they are striving there. That is a state who knows how to take care of it's people! The morons who run Rhode Island could give two @#$% about the people! Texas is a Right to Work state. There is no reason not to be able to have the CHOICE on whether one wants to pay a union thug or not. Thanks to the unions here in Rhode Island, there are A LOT of incompetent lazy SOB's being payed at the tax payers expense. People who would be fired if they didn't have union backing. How is that okay with others? As for teachers.....they earn a hell of a lot more than they deserve in this state. The second they started being put on pedestals they got greedy and stopped teaching our children. $50-80,000 a year with summers off, Christmas break, Spring break, Winter break, Federal Holidays etc. Yep, they have it so rough! :/

Comment #36 by Jenn Palumbo on 2013 02 17

Nina, your points about all the union benefits and the "living wage" are correct. The real problem is that the other 96% of us are being economically decimated in order to sustain those exorbitant union benefits. The citizens of Rhode Island are now fiscal slaves to the public sector unions. Our 'leaders' have sold us to the highest bidder, and it was the unions.

Comment #37 by Dave Johnson on 2013 02 17

Being a right-to-work state is not the way to go. Texas is attractive to businesses because Texas doesn’t have a state income tax and it gives businesses tax breaks. However, workers suffer the consequences, and without a strong check and balance system wages are horrible. Any time a problem arises, workers are told they’re “at will” and if they don’t like the situation, they can leave. How many of you are willing to change what you have for that? There’s no discussion, no reasoning - even when you know you’re right, and you’re being mistreated. I’ll always be a “damn Yankee” at heart, and I’ve been called that to my face, but there’s no argument in a right-to-work state. You don’t get a verbal warning, or a write-up, you get your walking papers. Think about this. Don’t put all of the blame on the unions. Unions do not simply walk in, make a demand, and walk out with what they want. I don’t have reliable statistics, but I have heard that retirement packages are out-of-control . . . [hearsay]. You can’t take away what’s been promised to those who have worked their entire lives to earn. Why not work to modify the parameters of retirement packages in the future? I believe in the strength of unions. Without unions, workers wouldn’t have the benefits they have today. I don’t have answers; I’m just sick of hearing teachers being “bashed” because they earn a decent salary. No one “bashes” doctors, lawyers, and businessmen for their salaries, for the number of days they work, or for the number of sick days they use. Again, why is that? In foreign countries there is a saying that “one should never walks on the shadow of an educator.” What’s wrong in this country? **Please excuse my typographical errors.

Comment #38 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 17

I would like to know a little more about the evidence used for this study. For example, there were many pregnant women (and,husbands of pregnant women) in the building where I work this year. There was a flu epidemic in our building as well. I would also like to know the percentage of teachers who have taken less than 5 days this year (I have taken 1 personal day so far, no sick days, and in fact, I don't generally take personal days either. All this information without specific evidence could be misleading.

Comment #39 by Donna Perrotta on 2013 02 17

Stoner is supporting crappy RI while she lives in booming Texas. Can't make this stuff up.

Comment #40 by Odd Job on 2013 02 17

Hey, Odd Job, no one is stopping you from moving to Texas. I'd retire in Rhode Island, but my children and grandchildren are here in Texas, and they are my heart and soul. Not that you need to know that. My family still lives in RI, and I visit as often as I can. Yes, I support RI and I'm proud of it. I'm a staunch supporter even if RI has its faults. Get off you butt, get out and make changes instead of complaining. I also believe one person can make a change. It's sad that when you get tired of bashing teachers, you go after the people who love the state. That's "representin'" your state.

Comment #41 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 17

And the number of non performing teachers that have been fired is still 0.0

Comment #42 by John Waddington on 2013 02 17

John, Are you a teacher? How do you determine a non-performing teacher? How do you know that no teachers have been fired? Where's your proof?

Comment #43 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 17

Personally, I'm stuck here for a few more years until my daughter finishes school, then I'm like Stoner and her kids: "screw trying to change anything, hit the road!"

Comment #44 by Odd Job on 2013 02 18

Respecting the teaching profession here is made even more difficult when they and their union bring up the binding arbitration bill every single year hoping to really stick it to the rest of us:

Soooo...go teachers rah rah!!

Comment #45 by Odd Job on 2013 02 18

Gist missed quite a bit of time as well.

Comment #46 by tom brady on 2013 02 18

If parents were better parents you'd see scores increase and teacher absenteeism decrease. If we break the #'s down, let me guess, East Greenwich, Barrington, North Kingstown, etc...have better numbers than the rest. If you don't believe socioeconomic standing determines almost everything in education you should wake up from fantasy land.

Comment #47 by Mike Meehen on 2013 02 18

Mike Meehen could not be more Right!

Comment #48 by THOMAS Murray on 2013 02 18

OHHH Mike, The great Deb Gist would beg to differ!!

Comment #49 by tom brady on 2013 02 18

With this record, they system has the nerve to resist offering school vouchers. As if it would be unfair to offer a poor child (or any child, for that matter) the right to attend a school where the teachers actually showed up!

Comment #50 by Karl Treen on 2013 02 18

nina, ri is not a right to work state but the only people that are protected are state workers, police, fire and teachers....

what about the rest of us??? the others that make up at least 80-90% of the workforce suffer and pay high taxes and they are protected?

Comment #51 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 18

If parents were better parents you'd see scores increase and teacher absenteeism decrease.

does that mean we have the worst parents which results in the worst students which result in the worst teacher absentee rate??

folks we are last!!!

i think most of your older teachers are sick of it because they had it alot easier in years past. its alot hearder now. they dotn wnat change, they dotn wnat to adapt.

its not all their fault but soem of it is.

Comment #52 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 18

Nina if your husband got 60 days of paid vacation teachers would still get a month more off than he does. I don't know anybody in the private sector that gets that much paid time off.

Comment #53 by george pratt on 2013 02 18

And since RI is a union state with all of the union protections shouldn't morale be high. Why aren't the right to work states #1 in teacher absenteeism?

Comment #54 by george pratt on 2013 02 18

So, I don’t want to make this personal, but to answer your question about my husband’s job; he gets 6 weeks of vacation time. He also gets 13 paid holidays. That’s roughly 8 weeks. Teachers in Texas get approximately 10 weeks during the summer and don’t get paid holidays. In his capacity, he can’t take all of the time at once. If he takes a few more days, no one questions it. He’s also been with the company for a while. I guess some folks in the private sector “score” in the area of time off.
@Odd Job – My husband and I left Rhode Island in 1972 [Ouch . . . 1972??] because there were no jobs in his particular area of expertise. It’s not easy to pull up roots and simply move to another section of the country. @Jenn – It’s been my experience that Unions cannot “protect” the so-termed “bad” teachers; they insure due process and the enforcement of the contracts that are agreed upon. Teachers are highly educated professionals just like doctors and lawyers; they should be compensated as such. I suggested in an earlier post that now would be the time to discuss retirement packages. Again, you cannot take away what someone has worked his or her whole life to earn, but you can make changes for those entering the various professions.
Unless it’s different in Rhode Island, the tax payers run school districts. When it’s time to elect your Board of Trustees, elect strong individuals who will represent the will of the people. I didn’t enter this string of comments to be criticized personally; I posted a comment because the teacher “bashing” is outrageous, and too many Rhode Islanders are over-anxious to join in the fray without examining how the statistics of absenteeism were even configured. And from there it’s all about the Union thugs, the corruption, and how awful Rhode Island is. Instead of complaining, become proactive and make changes.

Comment #55 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 19

now just to mix things up, why do the schools look like dumps inside and always have no supplies or nothing new???

Comment #56 by anthony sionni on 2013 02 19

Nina said, "Teachers are highly educated professionals just like doctors...." Gimme a break. My father was a doctor - four years college, four years med school and two years internship. Teachers do NOT have to go through that training regimen.

Comment #57 by Dave Johnson on 2013 02 19

@Dave: Since your father was/is a doctor, I'm sure you witnessed the respect he was afforded. I believe that in RI teachers are required to continue their educations. Many of your state's teachers have Masters and Doctoral degrees. Yes, Dave, teachers DO have to go through additional training in the fields they have chosen. What about lawyers and other professional businessmen? Many just want to berate teachers - the very professionals who educated you and your father. Why is that?

Comment #58 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 19

@Anthony, That's a questin to ask at the state level. Schools have allotted funds with which they must work. If the state doesn't fund schools adequately, there is not enough money for maintenance or for supplies. I live in Cypress, Texas an unincorporated area just north of Houston. We have a student population of 110,000. Our schools look amazing, and we a one on the most underfunded districts in the state. Ask your Board of Trustees. Attend board meetings and address them during one of their monthly meetings.

Comment #59 by Nina Stoner on 2013 02 19

@Nina - no, I'm NOT berating teachers. YOU made the generalized comparison between doctors and teachers, and I am just disagreeing. However, I am happy to berate teacher's UNIONS, which are the true enemy of the state. The unmitigated union greed is driving this state into a bottomless sinkhole of debt and fiscal despair. Teachers are mostly good. Their UNIONS are 100% bad - for taxpayers.

Comment #60 by Dave Johnson on 2013 02 19

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.