NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 29, 2008

Public school teachers in the United States are absent nine to 10 days per year, on average.  Between kindergarten and 12th grade, a typical student is taught by someone other than the regularly assigned teacher for the equivalent of two-thirds of a school year.  Students experience teacher absence in bursts of time, ranging from a few hours to a few months, and this fractured exposure may help deflect policymakers' attention, says Raegen Miller of the Center for American Progress.

In his report, Miller examines data from an anonymous, large, urban school district in the northern United States that include dates and "excuse" codes for 130,747 absences taken by 5,189 teacher in 106 schools over 4 years. He found that:

  • Patterns put the spotlight on discretionary absences -- those due to personal days or short-term illness; they comprise 56 percent of all absences and tend to occur on days adjacent to non-instructional days.
  • This suggests that teachers have room to respond to incentives that discourage avoidable absences and encourage excellent attendance.
  • There is an underlying seasonal trend, with rates of discretionary absence rising from September to December, falling until February and then rising again to their highest levels in June.
  • Schools operating in the same policy jurisdiction can have surprisingly different absence profiles, even after accounting for characteristics of teachers in the schools.

The report aims to inform and stimulate policy debate, and makes policy recommendations for each level of government:

  • Federal policymakers should amend No Child Left Behind to require information on teacher absence on school report cards.
  • State policymakers should re-examine and justify statutes governing teachers' leave privileges.
  • Local policymakers should encourage experimentation with and evaluation of incentive policies designed to reduce levels of teacher absence.

Source: Raegen Miller, "Tales of Teacher Absence: New Research Yields Patterns that Speak to Policymakers," Center for American Progress, October 2008.

For text:


Browse more articles on Education Issues