Teacher Absences & the Achievement Gap

The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Teacher Absences Plague Schools on April 28th.  According to the Journal’s analysis, one-fifth of New York City’s teachers were absent for more than two weeks last school year.  Absenteeism was highest in some of the poorest schools, where students and teachers face the greatest challenges.

The article failed to mention, that many of these highly at-risk students bring their problems to school because their parents do not speak to them.  Many come from single parent homes, or two working parents.  For some of these students, teachers provide the only adult they see during their waking hours.  The increasing problems of recession, unemployment and foreclosures mean that in addition to teaching, educators have become surrogate parents, and enforcers of school and community rules – things parents used to do.

Teachers are also exposed to childhood illnesses that children bring to school.  Many parents send sick children to school in  order not to hire baby sitters or so that they (the parents) will not have to miss work.

None of this is meant to excuse excessive absences.  But as a former teacher, I know how frequently upon my return to the classroom, I had to address the issue of substitutes who failed to provide adequate instruction during my illness.  Has anyone thought of paying teachers a bonus (of 10%) if they did not take a day off?  This would save school districts money.  (They wouldn’t have to pay a substitute in addition to paying for an absent teacher’s salary.)  It would also provide for continuing instruction and schools wouldn’t have to scramble to find substitutes.