1-in-5 Providence Teachers Missed At Least 20 Days of School Last Year

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Over 20 percent of Providence Public School teachers missed at least a month of school during the 2011/12 school year, a GoLocalProv review of attendance records shows.

According to information provided by the Providence School Department, 448 city teachers were absent for at least 20 days and 12 schools saw at least a quarter of their teachers miss four-or-more weeks of classes.

In some cases, the numbers were much at higher.

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At Esek Hopkins Middle School, one of the poorest performing schools in the district, 41 percent of teachers (23 of 56) missed at least 20 days, with another nine teachers absent for at least 15 days during the year.

At both Robert Bailey Elementary School and Central High School, records show one-in-three teachers missed at least 20 days of school. At the Providence Career and Technical Academy (PCTA), the rate of teachers absent at least one month was 30 percent.

In June, all four of those schools were identified by the state as in need of intervention. Of the 12 schools where at least 25 percent of teachers were absent for 20-or-more days, all but one (Nathanael Greene Middle School) has made the Rhode Island Department of Education’s list of lowest-achieving schools in the state.

“I am extremely concerned about absenteeism of both staff and students,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Lusi. “Every school day counts; we need students and staff present.”

Teacher Absenteeism Worse in High Poverty Districts

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By contract, teachers are allowed 15 sick days and two personal days each year and Lusi pointed out that in some cases, there are “very legitimate reasons” for teachers having multiple absences. But in a district that has placed a heavy emphasis on student attendance, Lusi said she is committed to making sure teachers are in consistently in the classroom as well.

“I elaborate on this goal to say that we need to address student attendance, and when students come to school, all adults, regardless of job role, need to be there to serve them,” she said. “I will be stressing this message throughout the year, and we will be monitoring attendance.”

Compared with student attendance, which multiple studies have shown directly correlates with student performance, there isn’t as much research available regarding the impact absent teachers have on the outcomes of their students.

But one study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that “every 10 absences lowers mathematics achievement by the same amount as having a teacher with one year to two years of experience instead of a teacher with three years to five years of experience.” The study also noted that the average teacher misses between nine and ten days each year.

And in low-income school districts like Providence, teacher absenteeism is more prevalent than in affluent communities. The study found that “teachers in schools with high poverty rates appear to be absent about one day more per year than teachers in low-poverty schools—a factor which, while small, contributes to the achievement gap.”

According to David Abbott, the state’s Deputy Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, chronic absenteeism among teachers is a factor that will be considered under the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

“Obviously, unexpected teacher absences can disrupt instruction, and repeated teacher absences can set back the process of teaching and learning,” Abbott said. “Repeated absences would be a factor noted during the process of teacher evaluations, which we are implementing this year in every public school in Rhode Island.”

Negative Impact

While Abbott maintains that the vast majority of educators “are truly dedicated every day to the hard work of teaching their students and improving our schools,” at least one education reform supporter called the teacher absenteeism rate in Providence “shocking.”

Ken Block, the chairman of the state’s Moderate Party and a board member for the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN), said he believes a classroom’s educational day is negatively impacted when a short term substitute teacher is required.

“An even greater harm comes to a child’s educational day when no substitute teacher is available for teacher who is out sick – something that I understand happens on a very frequent basis in the Providence school system,” Block said. “On days where no substitute coverage is available, the class is broken up and placed among other classrooms in the school, impacting the educational days of many more students than those just in the sick teacher’s class.”

Block said another concern is whether teachers are simply “banking sick time” to use at a later date or cash in if they do not use the time. In Providence’s case, Lusi said teachers can accrue up to 150 sick days, but she noted that they must have a doctor’s note if they are absent four consecutive days.

“If a teacher’s contract places a value on unused sick time, that sick time should be bought out by the school system and not ‘redeemed’ by a teacher calling in sick for days on end,” Block said. “The practice of banking sick time is harmful to our students and needs to be abolished.”

Providence Teacher: Majority Use Very Little Sick Time

While Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, Daniel Wall, a high school teacher and the Secretary of the Union’s executive board, said plenty of teachers never a take a day off at all.

“The overwhelming majority of Providence teachers utilize very little sick time,” Wall said. “In fact, many teachers go years without taking any days at all,” Wall said.

Wall said it is common place for teachers to go into work during times of sickness, “out of dedication to the students and the profession.” Still, he acknowledged that he would be disappointed if he learned that teachers are abusing their time off.

“If some teachers are in fact abusing their sick time, then I find that disappointing,” he said. “It would be unfortunate for the hard work of nearly two thousand Providence teachers to be tainted by the actions of a few irresponsible individuals.”


Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.


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