Teacher Absenteeism Investigation Sparks Reaction From Educators

Updated: 11/16/2013 11:42 AM KSTP.com By: Stephen Tellier

On Thursday night, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS aired an investigation into teacher absenteeism in Minnesota.

A recent report found that the state had the 11th-highest teacher absence rate in the country. But our investigation found inconsistencies in the underlying data, and when we brought that information to dozens of people in the education community, most expressed support for the state beginning to collect some more reliable data on this issue.

KSTP has received lots of feedback since our investigation into teacher absenteeism aired on Thursday night. Most of that feedback has been negative – fueled in part by an email blast Education Minnesota, the teacher’s union, sent out before the story aired, drumming up opposition to it.

But we wanted to share some of the input we’ve been receiving from viewers – and teachers themselves.

One viewer wrote, "The angle of the segment felt like you were trying to accuse the teachers of not being there for the students. The overwhelming fact was that accurate data was not being collected.”

That was perhaps the main point of the story – that there’s very little reliable data available on this subject, and that’s why lawmakers, and even the president of Education Minnesota, said they’re in favor of the state collecting some data on teacher absences.

One teacher wrote, "Most of us hate taking time off because it is more work to prepare for a sub to be in your room and when you come back. We do go in sick because we hate to leave our students with another person."

Another teacher was quite honest, writing, "I am one of the teachers you were talking about in your story. I would have to guess I have already had 10 absences this school year, which averages one per week."

That teacher said none of those days were sick days – the absences were for leadership workshops and training, both very worthy causes. But some parents said it doesn’t matter why a teacher is out of the classroom – it just matters that they’re not there.

Another teacher wrote, "I am a teacher and applaud efforts to report problems in the system and with teachers. There is always a need for improvement that should not be ignored and when necessary made public."

The following data was provided by the federal government, and was compiled by the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education as part of its Civil Rights Data Collection survey for the 2009-2010 school year. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found inconsistencies in the data -- some districts counted professional development days as teacher absences, used different definitions for what qualifies as an absence, and counted non-classroom staff as teachers.

If you'd like more information on your district's data, please contact your district directly.

Editor's note: some districts are not included in this map because they did not submit data to the federal government.

Click here for the previous story.