About 1 in 6 teachers was "chronically absent" during the 2012-13 school year and accounted for about one-third of all teacher absences, according to a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
With data collected from 40 public-school districts across the country, the nonprofit research and policy organization suggests that a simple way to boost education quality could be improving teacher attendance and focusing on the 16% of chronically absent teachers, who missed 18 days or more of the school year. The report, to be released Tuesday, cites previous studies linking teachers' attendance rates with student outcomes.
"Teacher attendance can be a really easy win to increase teacher quality," said Nancy Waymack, managing director for district policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates stronger teacher-evaluation tools and has sometimes been at odds with teachers unions. "Regardless of how effective a teacher may be, it does not matter if the teacher is not in the classroom. Getting the teacher into the classroom every day is an important part of having a highly effective school."
The report found that, on average, public-school teachers were present in their classrooms 94% of the school year and missed about 11 days. The average school year is 186 days. Long-term absences, defined as more than 10 days missed in a row, weren't counted in the report to control for maternity or paternity leave, as well as long-term illness.
"While some, no doubt, will find fault with teachers in this attendance report, an overall 94% attendance rate shows the extraordinary dedication of teachers across the country, who come to school each day ready and excited to teach," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "This kind of stability is what our kids need to succeed."
Incentives to keep teachers in school, such as extra payments for unused sick days, didn't affect teacher absences, the report found. Ms. Waymack said that researchers learned anecdotally that cultural changes could make a larger difference, such as requiring teachers to call their bosses to report their absences in addition to requesting substitute teachers by computer.
Substitute teachers cost about $424 million for the 40 districts included in the report during the 2012-13 school year.
The Hillsborough County Public Schools District in Tampa, Fla., ranked among the top five of the 40 districts in the report, with a teacher attendance rate of 95.5%.
"Teacher absence affects the consistency in the classroom," said Danielle Shotwell, principal of Eisenhower Middle School in the district. "We've tried to create a culture among teachers that they care about each other, so that unless they absolutely have to [take an absence], they don't want to put undue burden on their peers."