Fairness absent from report on attendance

A poorly constructed and researched report out this week warrants, at best, a grade of “incomplete.” At worst, the report gets an “F” for failing the test of accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

The National Council on Teacher Quality released a study that purportedly looked at teacher absenteeism in 40 large urban districts during the 2012-13 school year.  It found that teachers are in school, on average, 94 percent of the time. That high attendance rate is, unfortunately, dragged down by a minority of teachers – 16 percent – who call in sick 18 days or more.

Disappointingly, some news organizations used this isolated and incomplete data to perpetuate the myth of the “chronically absent, lazy teacher” – without examining basic and obvious flaws in the report itself.

While anyone who has worked in a school knows they can be “germ factories,” the NCTQ report barely acknowledged that frequent exposure to sick students are factors in teacher absenteeism. More than other professionals, teachers are exposed almost daily to the colds, viruses and other contagious illnesses of their students. The NCTQ report also didn’t consider family illness – such as when a teacher stays home to care for a sick child or elderly parent – or natural disasters which impacted teacher attendance. You would think that a national organization like NCTQ would acknowledge the many absences in New York City (which actually fared very well) were due to Superstorm Sandy.

The report’s fine print also stated that 30 percent of teacher absences – maybe six days for those out of the classroom more frequently – are due to “professional activities.”  In other words, many of the absences cited by the study are actually due to district-required professional development that, of course, benefits students and teachers.

The NCTQ report – and subsequent news coverage — should have focused more on how absences that result from professional development actually help teachers meet the various learning needs of their students and can be categorized as productive.

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