Criticism of education by the American public has been reflected in an increased number of studies on school performance conducted since 1982. Student test scores are one of the primary targets of this criticism. By the mid-1970s, academic indicators began to reveal a steady nationwide test score downturn. For example, the number and proportion of students who received high scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test dropped dramatically. Not only college entrance examination scores, but other tests taken by students in junior and senior year of high school, have shown a marked decline. (Ravitch, 1986)
The now famous report, A Nation at Risk (1983), has documented a number of problems with the U.S. educational performance. For example, in comparison to other industrial nations, the United States has never finished first or second in student achievement test scores, but has finished last in seven of 19 tests. Further indicators suggesting the decline of the quality of American education are that 20 million American adults are illiterate and 13 percent of all 17 year-olds in the U.S. are considered functionally uilliterate. (A Nation at Risk, 1983) Recently, Gerald Bracey (1992, 1995) has suggested that the crisis has been blown out of proportion by critics of education. While his comments have some merit and that many of the comparisons which are made are not appropriate, his observation should not, however, be interpreted to suggest that there are no problems in education and that certain procedures and systems could not be improved.
More recently concerns about the American educational system have focused on educational expenditures. State legislatures and local school boards have had to deal with escalating health insurance costs, increased demands for student services, increased lawsuits with attendant attorney fees, and teacher demands for increased salary and fringe benefits.
Teacher absenteeism as a financial cost is one particular area which has been the focus of research. (Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg, and Rees, 1991) In a recent analysis of substitute teacher pay cost, three individual school districts in northern Indiana were surveyed. The results showed that nearly 1% of the total operating budget for these school districts was consumed by substitute teacher costs. (Woods, 1996) In this era of increased educational costs, dollars spent due to employee absences for salaries and fringe benefits needs closer examination.
While the financial costs associated with teacher absenteeism are significant, they do not reflect the possible cost of teacher absenteeism on student achievement. The learning model of education in the United States is based on Student-Teacher interaction. (Elliott, 1979) When the student or teacher is absent, a violation of one of the model's assumptions occurs. Lewis (1981), for example reported in his article that, nationally, 75,000,000 student-teacher contact hours are lost annually due to teacher absenteeism.
The time lost to teacher absenteeism is a national problem, but it is more significant in large urban school districts which have disproportionately higher teacher absence rates. Detroit Public Schools had more than 120,000 teacher days lost to absences in 1980-81. These absences cost more than 6.2 million dollars.
A Nation At Risk (1983) offered some insight into the public's renewed concern for public schools. Increased state demands upon the public schools, such as increasing the number of credits required for graduation from high school, increasing the number of student-teacher contact hours weekly, and eliminating some school activities that previously pulled students out of the classroom are evidence of the public's growing concern for student achievement scores on tests. These demands are based on the assumption of the effectiveness of student-teacher interaction. (Elliott, 1979)
Should concern exist for the impact of teacher absences on student academic successes when substitute teachers are hired to replace absent teachers? …