Study: High Pittsburgh Teacher Absentee Rates Costing District

Pittsburgh teachers are absent from their classrooms too much, writes Maura Pennington for Watchdog. In the 2012-20131 school year, 18% of Pittsburgh teachers missed more than 18 days of work and suffered no consequences.

This data is according to a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a non-partisan research and policy organization working toward restructuring the teaching profession. The average teacher misses 12 days of work per year. If Pittsburgh teachers could match that average, the district would save half a million dollars, which is what hiring a substitute for those absences costs.

Truancy for students in Pittsburgh is three "unlawful" absences.

"If kids aren't showing up, they're probably not engaged. If teachers aren't showing up, it begs the question: Why hasn't the school created a culture where the teacher wants to be there?" said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN, an education reform group in Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh students are robbed of instruction time because of "professional development" days. In a typical 7-1/2 hour school day, high school teachers in the district use at least one whole period for collaborative preparation.

"While this schedule creates more time for planning and working with colleagues, it increases the number of teachers (and therefore the cost) needed to staff high schools. If the time is used wisely, it is an excellent investment; if not, it is a costly experiment," the report says.

Four "clerical" days are set aside during the year for tasks like classroom organization, even though time is such a valuable asset for learning. Those days cost the Pittsburgh schools $3.4 million.

Missing classroom learning time is not just a problem in Pittsburgh; schools across the country are reporting that 20-25% of teachers are absent frequently. Pittsburgh's public radio station WESA, reports that no sanctions are in place for those teachers who are chronically absent.

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, disagrees. She says that teachers have been fired for missing six, one or two day absences. Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, says that some days that are counted as absences are actually "personal development days" and are due to activities such as field trips.

Pennsylvania received a "C" for teacher effectiveness from the National Council on Teacher Quality, but none of the 50 states received a grade higher than a "B". Part of the report noted that "principals are unusually constrained in their ability to successfully staff their schools".

Eleanor Chute writes in her article for the Pittsburgh Gazette that "high-needs" schools were hard-pressed to fill their teacher positions. Unfortunately, the teachers rated the lowest are assigned to schools with the highest needs.

In a rebuttal to the Pittsburgh teacher absenteeism result from the NCTQ report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jon Parker, a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher and member of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, says that he is, by definition, a chronically absent teacher.

He has missed six days this year for personal matters like funerals, illness and so forth. He adds that he has worked 12 days outside of the classroom taking three separate field trips with students , and attending an out-of-town teacher development seminar.

He is opposed to the fact that the report lumped professional days out of the classroom with personal absences, and believes they did that for "shock value". He feels that the NCTQ was trying to embarrass those who "dedicate our lives to teaching Pittsburgh's students".

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