Playing hooky

Ed Week reports on an interesting new study showing the impact of teacher absences on students: "taking into account the effects on student achievement that might be produced by various characteristics of the teachers, students, and schools--including teachers' levels of skill and effort--the researchers found a small but significant negative impact on student math scores attributable to teacher absences alone," such that 10 days off were akin to "the difference for a student of having a first-year teacher as opposed to a second-year teacher." In their sample, teachers averaged 5.3 sick or personal days each per year.

None of this is terribly shocking, but did the unions miss a PR opportunity here? Instead of saying "see, an inexperienced substitute is no substitute for a true professional; teachers really matter," Rob Weil of the AFT urges us to "be careful about overemphasizing these results," in case the authors "are implying something that may not be true: that teachers are taking more days off than they are allowed." And why on earth would anyone get that impression? Perhaps because "teacher sick days occurred on a day adjacent to a weekend or a holiday 52.3 percent of the time, compared with 45.7 percent of the time on the other days, which usually fell midweek," and "conversations with school principals revealed that many teachers viewed such absences as an entitlement that they could use to fit their preferences."

There was no mention of whether teachers' golf handicaps improved after their absences.