Jacksonville teachers rank among worst in attendance

Teachers in the USA's largest school districts missed an average of 11 days, according to a report on teacher attendance released Tuesday. Jacksonville is among the worst cities when it comes to teacher attendance.

Addie Hall still has a couple years before she has to enroll her 2-year-old.

"I definitely think it's something to be aware of as a parent," Hall said.

That's Hall's reaction after learning about a report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality – that studied 40 district in the nation – and analyzed teacher absences in the 2012 – 2013 school year. Duval County made the top 5 districts with the highest average of teacher absences.

"I think the main culprit for the high numbers is the way we previously did professional development," said Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. He took his position mid school year in 2012 and says he noticed teachers were out frequently due to training. The study says teachers missed on average almost 14 days of the school year.

"One thing that we changed this year that has already led to a decrease in the number of teachers that have been out is that we moved professional development to the school site," Vitti said.

Dr. Vitti says teachers are given 10 days of leave for the year – usually 1 per month – but the report showed 27 percent of teachers were excessively absent, 39 percent were frequently absent, 27 percent had moderate attendance and only 5 percent had perfect attendance.

"Over the past year and a half we have recommended suspension without pay for quite a few teachers, we've even terminated teachers that have taken too many days I think moving forward the change in how we do professional development will lead to a decrease in the number of subs or substitutes that we're using," Vitti said.

Vitti says the district also plans to lift school morale for the staff – and offer incentives to increase attendance.

"When you look at the data, I wouldn't disagree with it at all regarding the negative impact it has on student learning. Teachers have to be in the classroom consistently."

On average public school teachers missed about 11 days of the school year. In Orlando teachers were absent an average of 12 days. Tampa was among the lowest average – at only 8 days.

The study from the National Council on Teacher Quality looked at attendance for more than 234,000 teachers in 40 districts during the 2012-13 year and found that 16% of all teachers were classified as chronically absent because they missed 18 days or more.

"While these big-city school districts are struggling to improve student achievement, they may be overlooking one of the most basic aspects of teacher effectiveness: every teacher being regularly on the job, teaching kids," said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington think tank that advocates for reform in recruiting, retaining and compensating teachers. It receives its money from private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nancy Waymack, the council's managing director for district policy and co-author of the report, said teacher absences affect student achievement.

"No matter how engaging or talented they are, teachers can only have an impact if they are in the classroom," she said.

Other cities with the lowest average teacher absences: Indianapolis; Washington, D.C.; Louisville; Milwaukee; and Tampa. Those with the highest teacher absences were Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville; Portland, Ore.

Full Report from USA Today of Nation's schools.


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