Teacher Absenteeism and School Closings
Chronic teacher absenteeism is a major problem for some schools. This may have a direct effect on educating our children. Some teachers know that their schools are going to be closed or turned around and call in sick frequently. When a school is turned around, that means that it has been targeted for closure. All school personnel including the principal, teachers, clerks, janitor and any other staff employed at the school are dismissed. They then have little motivation to come to work, since they know that their job is being eliminated. At certain schools, there have been as many as ten teachers absent on any given day and it wasn’t for attendance at a seminar for professional development. And just so that you understand the cost to taxpayers, for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, over $25M was spent on substitute teachers. There are more than 700 substitute teachers in Chicago and that does not account for the permanent teachers who have been reclassified as substitute teachers after their school has been turned around or closed. So when a teacher calls in sick, the school system is paying for two people, the substitute teacher and the teacher calling in sick. Is that fiscal responsibility? Does this provide for the educational continuity of a curriculum? Are the students being shortchanged?
Let’s look at school closings for now. When a school is closed it might be for poor performance or low utilization. By low utilization, that means if a school has the capacity for 300 students and only 150 students are enrolled, it is underutilized and may be scheduled for closure. Once the school is closed, the staff may reapply for their jobs. They are then tested. If they pass the test, they are rehired. Many, however, will not pass the test. The standards to pass these tests have been elevated. One taking the test should have a firm grasp of teaching principles and knowledge of the basic subject matter to be successful. By comparison, twenty years ago, there was a vast difference in the test in terms of level of difficulty. The test was so simple a fifth grader could have passed it. It goes without saying that the best teachers should be in the classroom. Maybe if more of them were teaching on a regular basis, our schools would improve.