According to the most recent data published by the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, 27 percent of public school teachers are chronically absent—meaning they miss more than ten days of school for illness or personal reasons.

That’s a lot. But is there an explanation for that number that might satisfy the many critics of our public school system? For example, might it be attributable to the fact that three-quarters of teachers are female, meaning they are more likely to miss work due to maternity and, in most cases, the burden of being primary caregivers?

The short answer is no.

Obviously, teaching is a challenging occupation, especially in high-poverty schools. So the point of this column isn’t that teachers are slackers, or that they should never get a day off, or that no teacher should ever be chronically absent. The point is that there’s room for improvement.

Per OCR, public holidays, professional development days, and field trips don’t count as teacher absences. Nor do summer, winter, or spring breaks. But the data do include days missed for maternity and long-term illness, so let’s crunch those numbers and see where it gets us.

In 2016, approximately...

(Trigger warning: This essay contains a bleeped, profanity-laced rant that may cause you to question your most deeply held beliefs.)

It's not often I cite vulgar, inappropriate humor to draw attention to the absurdity that occurs when someone sets achingly low standards and then expects accolades for surpassing them. But I cannot resist after re-discovering a raunchy (NSFW) skit from Chris Rock’s 1996 classic, savagely funny performance in “Bring the Pain”:

You know the worst thing about [bleeps]? [Bleeps] always want credit for some [bloop] they supposed to do. A [bleep] will brag about some [bloop] a normal man just does. A [bleep] will say some [bloop] like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb [bleeper][bleeper]! What kind of ignorant [bloop] is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having [bleeper][bleeper]!

I have been wondering how Chris Rock would re-write this skit as we enter the annual season in which a parade of education reform leaders triumphantly announce academic results marginally superior to the poor outcomes of the public education system we have committed our lives to transform....

This study uses administrative data and other public records to examine the impact of unionization on the test-based achievement of California charter schools between 2003 and 2013. Using a difference-in-differences approach, the authors estimate that unionization boosted math achievement by about 0.2 standard deviations but did not significantly affect reading achievement. These estimates differ from those of Hart and Sojourner (2015), who analyzed similar data but found that unionization had no impact on test scores. However, in the appendix of the more recent study, the authors provide a mostly convincing defense of their methodological choices.

A quarter of California charters were unionized in 2013, and between them these schools accounted for a third of charter enrollment. However, for obvious reasons, the authors exclude “conversion” charters that are automatically unionized because they are legally bound to the district contract. So their analytic sample includes just forty-four charter schools that switched from non-unionized to unionized between 2003 and 2013.

Overall, students in unionized charters score about 0.5 standard deviations higher on math and about 0.3 standard deviations higher in reading than students in non-unionized charter schools. And teachers in these schools are more experienced and far more likely to be on track...

“We shall have to build the schoolhouse first and the church afterward. In our age, the question of education is the question of the church.” – Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes

John Joseph Hughes was a feisty Irish immigrant who became the first Catholic Archbishop of New York. If you have seen the film “Gangs of New York,” you have a sense of the city in which he charted a course for the Catholic church, with the explicit purpose of helping immigrants find their way in their new home.

I say “feisty” because, like many of the scrappy Catholic school teachers and leaders we work with today, he was exactly that. One account described Dagger John as: “Unsystematic, disorganized, impulsively charitable, unable to keep his checkbook balanced, vain enough to wear a toupee over his baldness, and combative.” He became “the best known, if not exactly the best loved, Catholic bishop in the country."

Yet, Archbishop Hughes’s “dagger” was not only his sharp personality, but also his unwavering belief in the transformative power of Catholic schools. He faced fights from the legislature, from “nativist” mobs who attacked him and ransacked his home. But he always stayed true to his...

Teenagers declaring “I’m bored” is as timeless as a John Hughes film, but may mask a serious problem: Among high school students who consider dropping out, approximately 50 percent cite a lack of engagement with school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the work they are asked to do. In a recent Fordham study, What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, we found that many students are not being served effectively by the traditional “one size fits all” comprehensive high school. At the same time, there’s growing support for giving adolescents more educational choices.

To explore what keeps these schools from proliferating and how obstacles can be overcome, Fordham, along the American Federation for Children, invited Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, Kevin Teasley, president of the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation, Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Zach Verriden, executive director of HOPE Christian Schools (Wisconsin Region) to participate in a panel discussion on August twenty-second, moderated by senior vice president for research, Amber Northern.

Speaking from their unique perspectives, the four panelists covered various issues within high school...

Terry Ryan

Competition or cooperation? The district-charter school debate has swung back and forth between these alternative strategies since the first public charter schools opened twenty-five years ago. No group has striven harder over that period to find a workable balance than the Seattle-based Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment is CRPE’s latest effort to bring a moderate, research-based middle-ground to the fraught charter/district relationship that is still too often defined by acrimony, blame, and zero-sum arguments.

Better Together builds on CRPE’s deep expertise in establishing and promoting “District-Charter Collaboration Compacts.” It grows out of the conversation of “more than two dozen policymakers, practitioners, researchers and advocates” that took place at CRPE’s behest in January. Can school districts and charter schools co-exist, even cooperate? Is there a “grand bargain” to be struck that could benefit both sectors while—most important—serving the best interests of students, voters, and taxpayers?

District-charter collaboration is especially challenging in communities with declining student enrollments. In Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Dayton, the district population has declined by tens or hundreds of thousands of students. Detroit, for example,...

We’ve known for a while—thanks to the National Assessment and other measures—that American primary-secondary students aren’t learning a heckuva lot of civics, never mind that social studies is taught everywhere and taking high school civics is a widespread graduation requirement. Indeed, the Education Commission of the States reports that:

  • “Every state requires students to complete coursework in civics or social studies in order to graduate….
  • Thirty-seven states require students to demonstrate proficiency through assessment in civics or social studies. [and]
  • Seventeen states include civic learning in their accountability frameworks.”

That it isn’t working very well was obvious when, for example, NAEP assessed civics in 2006 and found that fewer than a quarter of high school seniors could supply a satisfactory answer to a question about the means by which citizens can change laws. Or when the Annenberg Public Policy Center surveyed American adults in 2014 and found that only 36 percent could name the three branches of the U.S. government.

That it isn’t working very well on a long-term basis is painfully evident from the recent behavior, voting patterns, and discourse of millions of American adults, including some at the highest levels of government.

Fortunately, there’s continuing awareness...

Research confirms what common sense dictates: Students learn less when their teachers aren’t there. According to multiple studies, a ten-day increase in teacher absence results in at least ten fewer days of learning for students.

Clearly, some absences are unavoidable—teachers are only human. But compared to their counterparts in other industries and other countries, U.S. teachers seem to have poor attendance. On average, they miss about eight school days a year due to sick and personal leave (in addition to the breaks they get for school vacations and national holidays); meanwhile, the average U.S. worker takes about three-and-a-half sick days a year. Yet the first of these averages obscures the degree to which absenteeism is concentrated among a subset of teachers.

In Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, Fordham senior research and policy associate David Griffith takes an unprecedented look at teacher chronic absenteeism rates in charter and traditional public schools—that is, the percentage of teachers who miss at least eleven days of school, excluding professional development days and field trips.

His major findings include the following:

  • Nationally, teachers in traditional public schools are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter
  • ...

As I document in Fordham’s newest study, Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, data from the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education show that 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss eleven or more days of school for illness or personal reasons. In contrast, the corresponding figure for teachers in charter schools is 10.3 percent.

While OCR describes these teachers as “frequently” absent, the report uses the term “chronically” absent, consistent with much of the initial coverage of these data. But regardless of your preferred adverb, research shows that teacher absenteeism matters: Specifically, a ten-day increase in teacher absenteeism is associated with the loss of about six to ten days of learning in English language arts and about fifteen to twenty-five days of learning in math. In other words, kids learn almost nothing—and possibly less than nothing—when their teacher of record isn’t there.

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine a hypothetical high school with 1,000 students and fifty full-time teachers. Based on the national average, we would expect about thirteen of those teachers to be chronically absent each year, meaning that between them they would miss at least...

In an essay in the new issue of The Atlantic, titled “Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake,” Erika Christakis frets over the “dystopian narrative” that she says dominates conversations about public schools, which she insists are “nothing close to the cesspools portrayed by political hyperbole.” Her complaint refers not only to the disdain for public education expressed by President Trump and education secretary Betsy DeVos. But, she notes, “Their words and proposals have brought to a boil something that’s been simmering for a while—the denigration of our public schools, and a growing neglect of their role as an incubator of citizens.”

Christakis is a well-regarded expert on early childhood education and the author, most recently, of The Importance of Being Little (2015), which pushed back aggressively against the vision of preschool as preparation for academics, and in favor of discovery learning and play. It may, however, be her fate to be best remembered for the email she wrote two years ago while a guest lecturer at Yale, wherein she challenged students to decide for themselves what Halloween costumes to wear over the advice of college administrators who were warning them against “cultural appropriation”—donning costumes...