Education

NC public school teachers are absent more than charter school teachers, study finds

A teacher writes the schedule for the day on a blackboard.
A teacher writes the schedule for the day on a blackboard. News & Observer file photo

More than a third of teachers in North Carolina’s traditional public schools are chronically absent – double the rate of their peers in the state’s charter schools, according to a new national study released Wednesday.

A total of 34.6 percent of teachers in North Carolina’s traditional public schools missed more than 10 days of work because of sick days or personal days, compared to 12.8 percent of teachers in the state’s charter schools. North Carolina’s absenteeism gap mirrored national data found in the report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington D.C.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow, including the number of sick days and personal days given to teachers who work in traditional public schools.

“We’re not saying teachers should never miss a day or no teacher should be chronically absent,” said David Griffith, the report’s author and a senior research and policy associate at Fordham. “But we’re saying in certain jurisdictions, certain states, there’s clear room for improvement.”

But the report has come under fire from teachers groups who note it was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, a group that supports charter schools. The report was also developed with the help of the National Association of Public Charter Schools.

“Fordham is a biased organization that is driven by an anti-student agenda with anti-public education funders,” Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said in a written statement. “The funders are the same organizations trying to dismantle public education in North Carolina through private school voucher schemes and for-profit management organizations.

“Public school educators are hardworking and dedicated professionals who put the best interest of our students at the center of lives every day.”

Griffith said the data speaks for itself.

The report pulled data from several sources, including 2013-14 school year teacher absenteeism data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which defines chronic absenteeism as missing more than 10 days of work per school year.

Nationally, the report found that 28.3 percent of teachers at traditional public schools missed more than 10 days of work because of sick days or personal days. That compares to a rate of 10.3 percent at charter schools.

North Carolina was among 12 states where the report found that traditional public school teachers are at least twice as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools.

“Despite the fact that it’s a right-to-work state, North Carolina guarantees all teachers 10 sick days and two personal days,” Griffith said. “Based on how the federal government tracks chronic absenteeism, you essentially have the right to be chronically absent.”

Griffith said everyone should care about reducing teacher absenteeism because studies show students learn less when they have a substitute teacher.

“Even a pretty marginal increase in teacher attendance could have major benefits on student learning,” he said. “It’s just a very basic way the effectiveness of our education system could be improved and can be improved. fundamentally.”

North Carolina has 173 charter schools and more than 2,300 traditional public schools.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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