Academic journal article Education

An Analysis of Teacher Absence and Student Achievement

Academic journal article Education

An Analysis of Teacher Absence and Student Achievement

Article excerpt

Educators, policy makers, and the general public have a longstanding interest in teacher absenteeism and its relationship to student achievement (Allen, 1983; Caruso, Cassel, & Blumsack, 2009; Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2007; Herrmann & Rockoff, 2010; Keller, 2008a,b; Miller, 2008; Miller, Murnane, & Willett, 2008a,b; New York City Board of Education, 2000; Rothstein, 2010; Sawchuck, 2008). In continuing to revisit teacher absence, researchers and other writers have documented how often and why teachers are absent in the United States and other countries (Ballou, 1996; Bruno, 2002; Chaudhury, Hammer, Kremer, Muralidharan, & Rogers, 2005; Eswaran & Singh, 2008; Herrmann & Rockoff, 2010; Miller, 2008), the costs of teacher absenteeism (Calvert, 2001; Miller, 2008; Roza, 2007; Sawchuk, 2008), and the correlational, causal-comparative, and experimental influences of teachers missing school (Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2009; Duflo & Hanna, 2006; Duflo, Hanna, & Ryan, 2010; Findlayson, 2009; Hansen, 2009; Jacob, 2011; Miller, 2008; Rockhoff, 2004). As Clotfelter et al. (2007) argue, "common sense suggests that teacher absences will impede students' academic progress" (p. 17); and the simple logic sustaining interest in teacher absence is the belief that "teachers cannot instruct if they are not in school" and the "potential policy implications" for developing district policies to address the "distribution of teacher absences" (Miller et al., 2008a, p. 181).

What We Know about Teacher Absence

Most early studies documented numbers and types of teacher absence and relationships between them and school district policies (Educational Research Service, 1980; Miller, 2006; Clotfelter et al., 2007). For example, Winkler (1980) found that the number of both short-term (i.e., one-half and one day absences) and the number of total days absent per teacher in the school year varied across two states sampled (i.e., California and Wisconsin) and were higher in large schools than small schools; and, personal characteristics, such as prior absenteeism, distance to work, and annual salary, "[did] not vary greatly among schools and [had] very low correlations with the policy variables (p. 237). In non-empirical work, Skidmore (1984) described strategies used to reduce teacher absenteeism, including notices for the school board on absentee rates, linking attendance and teacher evaluation, requiring administrative approval for leave surrounding weekends, and cash bonuses for good attendance. In a small-scale research investigation (n = 318 teachers), Jacobsen (1989) documented a significant decrease in the average number of days (7.21 to 5.34) teachers were absent following implementation of district-initiated monetary incentive plan. Evidence of the value of absenteeism rates and policies relative to achievement is primarily correlational.

Teacher absence and student achievement. A variety of other research investigations, including numerous doctoral dissertations (see Table 1), have documented relationships between teacher absences and student achievement in elementary, middle, and high schools. In general, this work does not support strong associations. For example, in a study using data from 419 (about 40%) of the school districts in New York State, Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg, Rees, and Ehrenberg (1991) found that "... teacher absence from the classroom ... for the most part does not appear to be associated with students' academic performance" (p. 99). Woods and Montagno (1997) studied 817 third-grade students and 45 teachers in Indiana (84% of students) and Wyoming (24% of teachers) with findings supporting the position that teacher absenteeism had a negative effect on Iowa Test of Basic Skills scores of third grade students. In 2000, the New York City Board of Education issued a report focused on the extent to which student attendance, teacher certification, and teacher absence explained differences in reading and mathematics performance in elementary and middle schools. …

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