Public School Teachers Are Absent Too Much, Says Charter School Think Tank



Have you ever heard of media bias?

I don’t think many so-called journalists have.

At least their editors haven’t or perhaps they just don’t care.

Otherwise, why would self-respecting hard news purveyors publish the results of a study by charter school cheerleaders that pretends to “prove” how public school teachers are worse than charter school teachers?

That’s like publishing a study denigrating apples written by the national pear council.

Breaking news: Pepsi says, “Coke sucks!”

In a related story McDonalds has startling evidence against the Burger King!



I know it’s become trendy to defend the media when our lame-ass President attacks every factually-based report that puts him in a bad light as “fake news.” But the giant media conglomerates aren’t doing themselves any favors with lazy reporting like this.

And I know what many journalists are thinking when they do it, because I used to be one:

I’ll publish the report and include dissenting opinions and that will be okay because I will have shown both sides and readers can make up their own minds.

But what’s the headline? What’s the spin? Who is David in this story and who is Goliath? When multiple stories like this appear all over the news cycle, what impression is made on your readers?

It’s the same thing with climate science. Ninety seven percent of climate scientists say global climate change is man-made and happening. Yet the news gives us one scientist and one crank climate denier and pretends like that’s fair and balanced.

And here we get one biased neoliberal think tank vs. millions of public school teachers all across the country and since you’ve given us an equal number to represent each side, you pretend THAT’S fair and balanced.

It isn’t.

But who’s paying your advertising revenue?

Who owns the media conglomerates that publish your articles?

Often the same people publishing bullshit reports like this one. That’s who.

No wonder they get so much coverage!

So here’s the deal.

The Fordham Institute wrote a report called “Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools.” They concluded that 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss eleven or more days of school versus 10.3 percent of teachers at charter schools.

To come up with these figures they used data from Betsy Devos’ Department of Education.

So let the hand-wringing begin!

Look how bad public school teachers are and how much more dedicated is the charter school variety! Look at how much money is being lost! Look at the damage to student academic outcomes!

Won’t someone think of the children!?


This report brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the College Board, Education Reform Now, the Walton Family Foundation and a host of other idle rich philanthrocapitalists who are drooling over the prospect of privatizing public schools and hoovering up public money as private profit.

Oh. If that’s not enough, Fordham actually runs a series of charter schools in Ohio.

Biased much?

So what’s wrong with the report?

First of all, it’s not news.

Neoliberal think tanks have been publishing propaganda like this for at least a decade. Play with the numbers here, look only at this data and we can paint a picture of “failing” schools, “failing” teachers and therefore justify the “need” for school privatization.

Second, look at all the important data Fordham conveniently leaves out.

Look at the number of hours public school teachers work in the United States vs. those in other comparable countries, say those included in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In fact, the OECD (which is not biased one way or another about American school privatization) released a mountain of statistics about how many hours teachers work in various countries.

The result: in the United States teachers on average spend more time teaching and receive less pay than those in other countries.

American teachers spend on average 1,080 hours teaching each year. Across the O.E.C.D., the average for most countries is 794 hours on primary education, 709 hours on lower secondary education, and 653 hours on upper secondary education general programs.


Source: OECD



Yet American teachers start at lower salaries and even after 15 years in the profession, earn less money than their international counterparts.

So – assuming Fordham’s absenteeism statistics are accurate – why do public school teachers miss so much school? They’re exhausted from the hours we demand they keep!

But what about charter school teachers? Aren’t they exhausted, too?

Some certainly are.

Working in a charter school often requires grueling hours and fewer benefits. That’s why charters have a higher turnover than public schools.

Since they’re often not unionized, charter schools usually have younger, less experienced staff who don’t stay in the profession long. In fact, they rely on a constant turnover of staff. At many of the largest charter chains such as Success Academy and the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), teachers average only 4 years before moving on to another career, according to the New York Times. And this is typical of most charter chains.

So why don’t charter school teachers take as many sick days as traditional public school teachers? Maybe because when they check out, they often don’t check back in.

Moreover, there is a significant difference in the student population at both kinds of school – privatized vs. public.

As their marketing departments will tell you, the students in a charter school choose to be there. The charter schools often weed out the students with behavior problems, special needs or those who are otherwise more difficult to teach. As a result, the strain on teachers may not be as severe. When you’re only serving kids who want to be there and who are easy to teach, maybe you don’t need as much downtime.

Public school teachers, on the other hand, face real dangers from burnout.

According to a study by Scholastic (that actually goes counter to its pro-privatization bias), we work 53 hours a week on average. That comes out to 7.5 hours a day in the classroom teaching. In addition, we spend 90 minutes before and/or after school mentoring, tutoring, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Plus 95 additional minutes at home grading papers, preparing classroom activities and other job-related tasks.

And for teachers who oversee extracurricular clubs, that’s even more work – 11-20 additional hours a week, on average.

Add to that the additional trauma public school children have experienced over the last decade. More than half of public school students now live below the poverty line. That means increased behavior issues, increased emotional disturbances, increased special needs, increased malnutrition, increased drug use – you name it.

Public school teachers deal with that every day. And you seriously wonder that some of us need some downtime during the year to deal with it.

Moreover, let’s not forget the issue of disease.

Working in a public school is to immerse yourself in a petri dish of bacteria and viruses. My first year teaching, I got so sick I was out for weeks until I developed immunities to strains of illnesses I had never been exposed to before.

Kids are constantly asking for tissues and blowing their noses and sometimes not even washing their hands. This is why teachers often purchase the tissues and hand sanitizers that school districts can’t or won’t – we’re trying to stop the spread of infection.

When teachers get sick (and often bring these delightful little maladies home to their spouses, children and families) what do you expect them to do? Continue going to work and further spreading the sickness around to healthy children?

And speaking of illness, let’s talk stress.

Stress is a killer. Do you think pushing the responsibility for the entire school system on to teachers while cutting their autonomy has an effect on teachers individual stress levels?

I can tell you from my own personal experience I had two heart attacks last year. And in the 15 years I’ve been a teacher, my health has suffered in innumerable ways. I’m actually on medication for one malady that makes me immunosuppressed and more susceptible to other illnesses.

So, yeah, sometimes I need to take a sick day. But if you ask most teachers, they’d rather stay in the class and work through it.

Having the day off is often more trouble than it’s worth. You have to plan an entire lesson that can be conducted in your absence, you have to give the students an assignment to do and you have to grade it. Even with the day off, you have a mountain of work waiting for you when you return.

So as a practicing public school teacher, I dispute the findings of the Fordham Institute.

They don’t know what they’re talking about.

They have focused in on data to make their chosen targets, public school teachers, look bad while extolling the virtues of those who work in privatized systems.

There is a manufactured shortage of teachers across the country. We’ve got 250,000 fewer teachers in the classroom than we did before the great recession of 08-09. Yet class enrollment has increased by 800,000 students.

So if we wanted today’s students to have the same experience as those of only a decade ago, we’d need to hire at least 400,000 more teachers.

I wonder why college undergraduates aren’t racing to become education majors. I wonder why there aren’t more incentives to get more teachers in the classroom and why there isn’t a boom of more teaching jobs.

And I wonder why reports like this are talked about as if they were anything but what they are – school privatization propaganda.

13 thoughts on “Public School Teachers Are Absent Too Much, Says Charter School Think Tank

  1. When I was teaching, we were allowed 10 paid sick days a year and if we didn’t use them, they accumulated. When I retired, I had more than 120 sick days. It took me more than 12 years to earn those sick days I didn’t use.

    Groan! Every time I read about the lies and propaganda pouring from the corporate pirates that want to privatize public education so they can make more money, I want to lock-and-load and take the battle to them (with an emphasis on THEM not innocent people) like I was trained in U.S. Marine Corps boot camp and the firing range that taught me how to hit a target at a great distance. I lost sleep. It eats at me and my anger grows. I hope there are millions like me and the fire is slowly bringing us all to a boil.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Please explain, then, why our Founding Fathers, who attempted peaceful methods first to get King George and the British Empire to listen to them resorting to a revolution that lasted from 1775 – 1783. Why did our Founding Fathers resort to violence?

        The answer is simple.

        The only reason the U.S. Founding Fathers resorted to violence is that King George didn’t listen to their peaceful attempt to convince him he was wrong. Tyrants and autocrats often do not listen to peaceful protests.

        Before the violence, it is always best that we try peaceful methods first. But when they fail, there is only two choices left.

        1. give up and surrender to the tyrants and autocrats
        2. lock and load and start shooting at the tyrants and autocrats.

        Some of us will be ready for #2 earlier than others and some of us will decide to give up and surrender to the tyrants and autocrats, but like Lincolns said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

        Eventually, the tyrants and autocrats will cause so much anger and suffering, that the pot will boil over.


    • Right now in my state they are pushing pension reform–one the compromises proposed is to disallow ‘banking’ sick days towards retirement–because while teachers apparently have high absenteeism they also mysteriously are committing some kind of fraud by banking too many sick days. The propaganda is so strong right now even some of my preservice teachers think most other teachers are taking advantage of the system.


      • It is amazing how far the privatizing pirates will go to achieve their goals to rob us of what we earned. They lie. They lie. They lie. They lie. They lie.

        And like the Nazi’s under Hitler knew, if you lie enough it becomes the truth to many people who then support the lie until the liars come for them too but then no one is left to fight back and they drag off the easiest to fool too.


  2. Love this, Steven (as with most of your education posts), but I want you to know that I’m not “liking” it because the title of “liked” posts shows up on my sidebar for others to check out, and I don’t want anyone who does NOT click to read the post to get the wrong impression from the first part of the title. Jes’ sayin’

    AS FOR WHY would “self-respecting hard news purveyors publish the results of a study by charter school cheerleaders that pretends to ‘prove’ how public school teachers are worse than charter school teachers?”

    — #1 they are NOT self-respecting journalists
    — #2 – follow the money.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!


    • It was hard to figure which to lead with – the point of the study or who wrote the study. I ended up doing a bit of both by starting with the content of the study in the title and who wrote it in the article. It’s difficult. You don’t want to feed the trolls, but if you’re going to dispel their BS you kind of have to mention it at some point. But I do see where you’re coming from.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like any research and one single study, it’s not going to tell the whole story. There are charter public schools where there is high absenteeism. There are traditional public schools where there is not. There are charters where there is 98% poverty and 80% English language learners – there is one in my town- and there are traditionals in high income areas and a lot of resources- also in my town. I’d have to take a look at their research methodology, and your point about bias is important and why they’re trying to skew one school model over another makes no sense. Kids need support, and our country spends more time throwing stones at schools- all schools- than it does trying to help and get resources where they need to be. All schools- across all income levels- are dealing with an increase in anxiety, depression, mental health issues. There are real teacher shortages because the profession is constantly maligned. And teachers have to dig in and show up and be teacher, counselor, nurse, mentor, anger management consultant, behavior specialist, content specialist, and so much more- and the resources at each school to back them up very drastically. Sometimes the psychologist, the nurse, the occupational therapist – mandated for certain student needs- shares 3, 4 schools; the gifted education specialist needed to ensure students aren’t sitting their bored out of their minds and massively underachieving – or dropping out (17% of dropout population, Duke study) – is swamped, shares multiple schools, or is nonexistent. So I think what you’ve pointed out is that school absenteeism is important to study- and one study tilted in one direction helps no one where it’s used to further bash instead of seek answers and solutions.


  4. At my district, the leading cause of absenteeism, by a large margin, is when the district pulls us out of class to do professional development that one of them has decided we need (for their resumes). We’re on our second round of days out for Thinking Maps. Last year and the year before it was math they’d contracted with UCLA. Four to five days a year. It depletes the sub pool to the extent that principals are taking over classes or we got awful subs.


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