Report questions time Pittsburgh teachers spend away from classroom

ABSENT: Eighteen percent of Pittsburgh teachers were chronically absent last year.

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — Teachers in Pittsburgh are absent way too often.

Eighteen percent of teachers were “chronically absent” in 2012-13, missing more than 18 days of work, and no obvious system of consequences exists, says a report released last week by the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

“If the district was able to reduce the number of days chronically absent teachers miss down to the current district average of 12 days, it could realize almost half a million dollars in substitute cost savings while keeping teachers of record in the classroom with their students,” the report concludes.

“Clearly we have to address that,” Linda Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

By comparison, truancy for students in Pennsylvania is defined as three “unlawful” absences. The district is taking part in a campaign to promote attendance.

“If kids aren’t showing up, they’re probably not engaged. If teachers aren’t showing up, it begs the question: Why hasn’t the school created a culture where the teacher wants to be there?” said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN, an education reform group in Pennsylvania.

Aside from absences, Pittsburgh students also lose instruction time to “professional development.”

During a 7 1/2-hour work day, Pittsburgh high school teachers spend at least one whole period on such things as collaborative preparation, which is more than their peers in other districts.

With little proof that it provides any benefit, this time out of the day could have a high price tag.

“While this schedule creates more time for planning and working with colleagues, it increases the number of teachers (and therefore the cost) needed to staff high schools. If the time is used wisely, it is an excellent investment; if not, it is a costly experiment,” the report says.

The NCTQ report also found that four out of the 10 non-instructional days throughout the school year were spent on “clerical” work, such as classroom organization.

“Overall, time is the most important resource in schools,” said Cetel.

But that time isn’t free.

Four clerical days become $3.4 million Pittsburgh isn’t putting toward student education or teacher development.

Contact Maura Pennington at mpennington@watchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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