Rampant teacher absenteeism in Cleveland and Columbus

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released an alarming new report today on teacher absenteeism in America’s urban public schools. While teacher absences were unacceptably high across most of the school districts that NCTQ analyzed, Cleveland and Columbus public schools earned the unhappy distinction of having the most teacher absences of them all. NCTQ’s analysts used district-level data from 2012-13 to calculate the number of teacher absences in forty of the nation’s largest urban school systems. The results were, on the whole, woeful: teachers across these districts were absent, on average, eleven days during the school year. (The length of a school year is roughly 180 days.) NCTQ’s analysis excludes days missed due to major illness or maternity leave, and did include days missed for professional development.

Teacher absenteeism borders on a crisis in Cleveland and Columbus. Cleveland’s teachers missed an average of sixteen days while in Columbus, teachers missed fifteen days—good for the highest and second-highest absentee rates in this study. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati—the only other Ohio district that NCTQ analyzed for this study—teachers missed an average of twelve days of school. (In a separate study, NCTQ found that Dayton’s teachers were absent nearly fifteen days.) However, not all of a district’s teachers are shirking work: Many of these absences can be attributed to “chronically absent” teachers—those absent eighteen or more days. In Cleveland, the percentage of the “chronically absent” teachers was a staggering 34 percent (second-highest in this group of districts); in Columbus, the percentage was 32 percent (third-highest).

It’s unclear why Cleveland, Columbus, and for that matter Dayton, have such a severe problem with teacher absences compared to other districts. (Indianapolis, the group leader, had an average of just six days missed and Washington DC had an average of seven.) But the stark fact remains: when teachers are chronically absent, students bear the academic consequences and taxpayers pay the costs associated with substitute teachers. If Cleveland and Columbus care about improving the quality of their education, they need to rectify the teacher-absentee problem, fast. 

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