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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.

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

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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Prov schools should be state-run..Steve Smith should be fired

Comment #1 by robert phellps on 2012 09 26

Wonder if this is like Central falls when teachers had actually left their jobs but the district never replaced them creating a false "absence." Wonder how many were maternity leaves?

Comment #2 by barnaby morse on 2012 09 26

I would like to comment on a couple of things and hopefully get a response. I agree that these numbers are very appalling. However, I was wondering if additional research could be done. There are several circumstances that I believe may skew these numbers.

1. When a teacher takes students on a field trip and they are not in the physical school building, or attend professional training, these days count as an absence. For example, I took 1 sick day last year, 2 personal days but had 4 field trip days. On our absence report it would show I had missed 7 days.

2. When a vacancy in a building exists, a long term substitute teacher is placed in that room. They have no motivation to miss work because they are not paid if they are not there. However, everyday, that spot is counted as an absence because it is a vacancy filled. That is the way the computer system the district sees it. In my building alone last year, there were 6 vacancies.

Dan, could you confirm if you actually saw names of teachers, or just teacher spots because some of these "spots" had a highly qualified appointed teacher in the class everyday.

Comment #3 by alex lucini on 2012 09 26

I also have a comment about Mr. Block's statement regarding covering of classes when a substitute is not available. Students are NOT broken up and placed into other classroom disrupting instruction. Instead, a teacher with an unassigned period is assigned to deliver the classroom lesson of the missing teacher.

Providence teachers are not eligible for TDI so the allowance to accrue sick days is in place as a precaution rather than to "earn a break."

Comment #4 by alex lucini on 2012 09 26

These teachers would be good candidates for dismissal. I expect most of them are on the bottom rung of capability also. ( I understand there are exceptions but compare these figures to the private sector and it’s pretty evident there is a lack of commitment).
There is a mentality that 75% are professional about their jobs and take pride in their work and there are 25% others that just show up and collect a check and benefits without the effort to make their profession better. The union should cull the lower 25% if they want to have an industry to represent in the future. Otherwise I can sense the public is getting fed up with mediocrity in education caused by 25% of the system. This is an example of missing leadership in the school administration and unions to allow this to continue, the same culling needs to be done in administration and unions.

Comment #5 by Gary Arnold on 2012 09 26

Hi Dan, I suppose it would be too much work for your crack news staff to investigate how many of the 25% are out because of things like maternity, students assaults, cancer treatments, surgery, district workshops etc... The people might be helped with this information rather than your usual headline nonsense. I'm betting that the number goes down dramatically. Probably wouldn't be much of a story if you used real journalism.

Comment #6 by tom brady on 2012 09 26

Privatize the whole thing. The quality of education would soar and the costs would nose-dive. Face it...the union teachers are instructed or cajoled by their peers to use every available sick day. Ask a teacher privately. They'll tell you.

Comment #7 by Captain Blacksocks on 2012 09 26

Nice try on the "crack news" journalism comment Tom Brady, however, Dan's data is quite in line with the national stats also. The U.S. Department of Education has data that shows of about 72k schools, 37% of teachers were absent more than 10 days in 2009-10.

So, the bigger issue that always seems to be 2nd fiddle...national studies repeatedly link teacher absence to lower student achievement and lower test scores, especially in math.

How about Dr. notes requirements? How many sick days are the children allowed without Dr. notes? What is our priotity again?

Comment #8 by J Veegh on 2012 09 26


Just wanted to address your questions. My request to the district was for a list of every teacher in the district and the number of absences recorded. I asked that they redact the teachers names as I wasn't looking to embarrass anyone by running their names in the story.

I believe that sick and personal days were included in the information I requested, but I do not know if field trips were included, but it seems to me they would not be included as sick or personal days.

I think you raise a good regarding the long-term substitutes that filled in. I'm sure plenty of them are highly qualified and it is certainly possible that teachers who were out with long-term illness were included.

Happy to answer any other questions you have here or via e-mail at [email protected]


Comment #9 by Dan McGowan on 2012 09 26

No private business allows 15 days worth of sick time in 9 months. The last company I worked for allowed 5 per year, and it was unionized. Some people feel justified taking what they're allowed to take; others never take a sick day no matter what, practically, no matter how many they have (of course in Providence there's an incentive to bank them for a cash heyday at the end, which isn't the intent of allowed sick days). The number of sick days needs to be reduced to something near reasonable, which would be less than half that. But teachers also need flexibility like the rest of us; they shouldn't have to take a sick day in order to attend something at their child's school for an afternoon; they should be able to take a half day or whatever.

Comment #10 by Pam Thomas on 2012 09 26

J. Veegh, Nice try yourself. Where is the break down?

Comment #11 by tom brady on 2012 09 26

Thank God for unions. In the private sector, someone missing that much time would have gotten FIRED!!!

Get your lazy azzes back to work!!

Comment #12 by pearl fanch on 2012 09 26

If the overwhelmingly better performing private schools showed these types of numbers, they'd ceased to exist. What would the Chafees and Whitehouses do then?

Comment #13 by David Beagle on 2012 09 26

@Pam...so if you were pregnant and couldn't work in your last month, would your company fire you? If you needed to have a knee-replaced, would your company fire you? If your parents died and you used up your generous 5 days, would you have to forego the funeral so you wouldn't be fired? There are LEGITIMATE reasons people miss work. LEGITIMATE long-term illness, pregnancy, teacher-workshops, personal days, field trips SHOULD NOT BE COUNTED IN THIS ANALYSIS. The way the school district defines absences should be changed. Analyzing DAY to DAY absences would be a better measure. Also, should we punish Deborah Gist because she had brain surgery and will be out of work for 2 months?

Comment #14 by Ed Jucation on 2012 09 27

The fact is, absences are absences, legitimate or not. They're disruptive, and they're something to consider. We all know perfectly well that nothing goes on the day the teacher is out. By the way, you don't use sick days for a funeral. Companies have personal days, and some have bereavement days for immediate family deaths. It would be nice to know what they're including here, tho, in terms of absences. Maybe Dan would be willing to do a foloup. Long-term absences are not all legitimate either tho; I had a colleague who used to have a little foot surgery at the beginning of every summer; she had the summer off, and the rest of us just worked harder!

Comment #15 by Pam Thomas on 2012 09 27

@Pam..So a department head who is attending REQUIRED professional development and being paid for that is considered an absence? Is that fair? The person is not out sick, being paid but is considered "absent" in Dan's numbers. As far as the legitimacy of long-term absences, a doctor's note is required for more than 4 consecutive days absence. The school department also has the right to send that teacher to another doctor for a second opinion if they believe the absence is not legit. Finally, not everyone can elect when they have surgery. Some surgeries can be put off, but others require immediate attention. If the school district does not follow up and investigate these absences and send the teachers to the schood district doctor then that is their fault.

Comment #16 by Ed Jucation on 2012 09 27

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