Monday, December 6, 2021

More Than 30 Percent of NC Public School Teachers Missed 10 Days in 2014

— Federal data show 34 percent of North Carolina’s 96,000 full-time public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in a single academic year.

The U.S. Department of Education deems teachers who miss that much time as chronically absent. Statistics from the agency’s Office of Civil Rights show that educator attendance varies from state to state, from district to district and even from school to school.

WRAL Investigates reviewed North Carolina’s data and found that, in the Alamance-Burlington School System, 86 percent of teachers missed 10 or more days of school, according to the most recent data available from 2014, which was released this past summer. The school district says its absenteeism rates are improving. However, more than half the system’s teachers are still chronically absent.

In Wake County, 22 percent of teachers were chronically absent. It was 29 percent in Durham, 25 percent in Cumberland and 70 percent in Robeson County. The data showed charter schools, on average, had lower rates of teacher absenteeism than traditional public schools.

In Wake County, three schools – East Cary Middle, Holly Grove Middle and West Lake Middle – had chronic absentee teacher rates above 50 percent, meaning half of the teachers in those schools missed at least 10 school days. Nine of the top 10 Wake schools with the highest absenteeism were year-round schools.

Five Wake schools reported zero chronic teacher absences – Highcroft Drive Elementary, East Wake School of Health Science, East Wake School of Arts, Education & Global Studies, Wake Early College of Health and Sciences and Richland Creek Elementary.

Wake County provides an incentive for teachers not to use sick days. Teachers can bank them and have them factored into retirement. But other local school systems have different policies.

WRAL Investigates asked to speak with Wake County Public School System teachers or administrators, but the system declined the request.

Find your school: How many teachers were chronically absent?

Search for your school to see how many teachers were chronically absent in 2014, according to the most recent federal data available. This list only includes school districts in and around the Triangle. Nearly 30 percent of the state’s public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in 2014. Source: U.S. Department of Education

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said the state needs to “look at this issue and find solutions.”

“We know that having teachers chronically absent from the schools does hurt student growth and student achievement, and we must be about helping students,” she said.

However, Atkinson said she wonders about the reliability of school-reported teacher attendance numbers because of varying leave policies. She said she also thinks that the state restricted school calendar that reduces flexibility may be a contributing factor to teacher absences. Still, she says schools must explore reasons why teachers miss.

“I was surprised at the chronic absenteeism rate in many of our schools in North Carolina,” Atkinson said. “We want our schools to be places where our teachers want to come, as well as students.”

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, is a retired school administrator and said schools needs to educate teachers about how their absences affect children.

“It’s alarming to me that you’d have those high a numbers in certain school systems,” Tillman said. “If it’s chronic, you’ve got to deal with it a couple of ways. Tighten the regulations on the excuses. Then, secondly, counsel this teacher to tell them about the damage that’s occurring to these students.”

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, points out that most teachers don’t miss class time. He says low pay and high pressure can erode morale and health.

“I think the underlying story here is why we have a teacher shortage,” Jewell said.

“Of course, the big thing is there’s a love for learning and children, but that’s not enough to keep teachers in the profession,” he added. “You’ve got to be treated as a professional. You’ve got to be given quality planning time. You’ve got to be able to have the resources for your students to be successful.”

After 18 years of teaching, Darren Wellman, an art teacher at Pittsboro Elementary School, said he believes showing up for his students matters.

“I do it because I love what I do,” he said. “In my classroom, they look for me to be there. I think that’s very important.”

Wellman said he has never missed 10 or more instructional days in a year and said he believes culture is one reason Chatham County Schools, on the whole, performed well in the education report. Only 4 percent of Chatham teachers were labeled as chronic absentees.

“We know we need to be here, and that starts with the superintendent down,” Wellman said. “When they see us here and ready to go, then they are ready to go. It makes them accountable to be here as well.”

,Federal data show 34 percent of North Carolina’s 96,000 full-time public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in a single academic year.,Federal data show 34 percent of North Carolina’s 96,000 full-time public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in a single academic year.

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