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School staff absenteeism — January 2019


What does the research say about the effects of school staff absenteeism?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the effect of school staff absenteeism. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2009). Are teacher absences worth worrying about in the United States? Education Finance and Policy, 4(2), 115–149. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Using detailed data from North Carolina, we examine the frequency, incidence, and consequences of teacher absences in public schools as well as the impact of a policy designed to reduce absences. The incidence of teacher absences is regressive: when schools are ranked by the fraction of students receiving free or reduced price lunches, teachers in the lowest income quartile average almost one extra sick day per school year than teachers in the highest income quartile, and schools with persistently high rates of teacher absence were much more likely to serve low-income than high-income students. In regression models incorporating teacher fixed effects, absences are associated with lower student achievement in elementary grades. Finally, we present evidence that the demand for discretionary absences is price elastic. Our estimates suggest that a policy intervention that simultaneously raises teacher base salaries and broadens financial penalties for absences could both raise teachers’ expected incomes and lower districts’ expected costs.”

Herrmann, M. A., & Rockoff, J. E. (2012). Worker absence and productivity: Evidence from teaching. Journal of Labor Economics, 30(4), 749–782. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “A significant amount of work time is lost each year due to worker absence, but evidence on the productivity losses from absenteeism remains scant due to difficulties with identification. We use uniquely detailed data on the timing, duration, and cause of absences among teachers to address many of the potential biases from the endogeneity of worker absence. Our analysis indicates that worker absences have large negative impacts: the expected loss in daily productivity from employing a temporary substitute is on par with replacing a regular worker of average productivity with one at the 10th–20th percentile of productivity.”

Kronholz, J. (2013). No substitute for a teacher: Adults’ absences shortchange students. Education Next, 13(2), 16–22. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “U.S. teachers take off an average of 9.4 days (roughly 1 day per month) each during a typical 180-day school year. By that estimate, the average child has substitute teachers for more than six months of his school career. The education department reported after the 2003–04 school year that 5.3 percent of U.S. teachers are absent on any given day, and that’s still the number most researchers use. In the education department’s 2009–10 report—assembled by its Office for Civil Rights from surveys of 57,000 schools—on average, half the teachers in the 208 Rhode Island schools surveyed were absent more than 10 days during the year, surpassing teacher absences in Hawaii, Arkansas, Oregon, and New Mexico by only a whisker. Nationally, 36 percent of teachers were absent that often. And even in Utah, which reported the lowest absence rates to the department, 20 percent of teachers took off more than 10 days each school year. Gleaning from research results from Harvard’s Raegen Miller, Richard Murnane, and John Willett and Duke University’s Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd, and Jacob Vigdor, this article discusses the demographics of teachers who take the most leave and their reported reasons for their absences. Additionally, statistics from the National Council on Teacher Quality and study results from Columbia researchers Mariesa Herrmann and Jonah Rockoff support an examination of the impact of these absences, the use of substitute teachers, the cost to learning, and different systems used by different schools to lessen that impact.”

Miller, R. T., Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (2008). Do teacher absences impact student achievement? Longitudinal evidence from one urban school district. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(2), 181–200. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This article exploits highly detailed data on teacher absences from a large urban school district in the northern United States to shed light on the determinants and effects of teacher absences. The topic is important because both school and district policies can influence teachers’ propensity to be absent. The authors estimate the impact of teacher absences on academic achievement of students matched to elementary school teachers. Models include fixed effects for teachers to control statistically for potential correlation between time-invariant levels of teachers’ skill and effort and their rates of absence. The authors estimate 10 additional days of teacher absence reduce mathematics achievement of fourth-grade students by 3.2% of a standard deviation. They employ an additional instrumental variables strategy to bolster the case for a causal interpretation of results. Instrumental variables results indicate the impact of unexpected teacher absences on student achievement is larger than the impact of anticipated absences.”

Whipple, S. S., Evans, G. W., Barry, R. L., & Maxwell, L. E. (2010). An ecological perspective on cumulative school and neighborhood risk factors related to achievement. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(6), 422–427. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Most educational reform programs, including No Child Left Behind, operate from the perspective that gaps in academic achievement can be reduced by improvements in the educational process directed by school administrators and teachers. This perspective ignores the ecological context in which underachieving schools are typically embedded. Using a developmental approach, we show that school-wide achievement of elementary school children in New York City, the nation’s largest public school system, is better characterized by the accumulation of multiple risk factors within schools and within the neighborhoods where they are situated. School risk factors include teacher experience, teacher and student mobility, teacher absences, and school building quality. Neighborhood risk factors include proportion in poverty, parental educational attainment, proportion of single parents, housing quality, residential crowding, and neighborhood deterioration. Cumulative risk within each of these ecological domains, as well as their interaction, is significantly associated with school-wide achievement.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for American Progress –

From the website: “The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.”

REL West note: One article relevant to the request is as follows:

Miller, R. (2012). Teacher absence as a leading indicator of student achievement: New national data offer opportunity to examine cost of teacher absence relative to learning loss. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This summary uses the Civil Rights Data Collection dataset released in early 2012 to raise questions and drive debate about the subject of teacher absence. This dataset comes from the first national survey to include school-level information on teacher absence. The measure constructed from this information is the percentage of teachers who were absent more than 10 times during the year. The Department of Education calls the measure a ‘leading indicator,’ a reasonable label given the documented relationship between absence rates measured at the teacher level and student achievement. Yet very little is known about the properties of this new school-level measure. This summary also notes that teacher absence is yet another item that can be added to the list of ways in which charter schools differ from traditional public schools. This summary also supplies evidence that students in schools serving high proportions of African American or Latino students are disproportionately exposed to teacher absence. With these and other findings, this summary seeks to draw attention to the too long-neglected subject of teacher absence.”

National Council on Teacher Qualtiy (NCTQ) –

From the website:NCTQ researches, evaluates, and provides information and guidance. We propose new changes to restore the teaching profession to strong health so we can provide every child with the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future and to offer all teachers—from aspiring to veteran—the conditions needed to thrive and succeed. Our body of work includes the Teacher Prep Review with evaluations and rankings of 2,400+ programs preparing new teachers; our State Policy Yearbook Database grading states on their efforts to modernize teacher policies; our Great Districts for Great Teachers’ certification indicating which districts do the most for their best teachers; and our Teacher Contract Database, an incredible treasure-trove of information to compare states’ and large districts’ teacher policies.”

REL West note: One article/report relevant to the request is as follows:

Joseph, N., Waymack, N., & Zielaski, D. (2014). Roll call: The importance of teacher attendance. National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “While policymakers have been directing considerable attention to teacher effectiveness, one basic aspect of effectiveness has received relatively little attention: teacher attendance. No matter how engaging or talented teachers may be, they can only have an impact on student learning if they are in the classroom. This paper asks a simple question: How often are teachers in the classroom and what factors influence their attendance? Using school district data for 40 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas for the 2012–2013 school year, the following was found: (1) On average, public school teachers were in the classroom 94 percent of the school year, missing nearly 11 days out of a 186-day school year (the average school year length). Teachers used slightly less than all of the short-term leave offered by the district, an average of 13 days in the 40 districts; (2) 16 percent of all teachers were classified as chronically absent teachers because they missed 18 days or more in the school year, accounting for almost a third of all absences; (3) In spite of previous research to the contrary, this study did not find a relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of the children in the school building; and (4) Districts with formal policies in place to discourage teacher absenteeism did not appear to have better attendance rates than those without such policies, suggesting that the most common policies are not particularly effective.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the databases and other sources:

  • “Teacher absence” OR “Teacher absenteeism”
  • “School staff absence” OR “school staff absenteeism”
  • “Teacher attendance” OR “School staff attendance”

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.