Teacher Truancy, 2018 Version

We hear a lot about truancy and its malign effects. For example, here.

Courtesy of the Federales, we now have data on teacher absences that may be similarly damaging to students and that certainly are harder to justify.

The 2018 version of the biennial Civil Rights Data Collection, available since October, 2020, has data on both truancy and teacher absences. Let’s look at the teachers.

The feds count full time teacher absences >10 during the school year. Eleven days are 6.1% of a 180 day school year.

Here are the 2018 counts for the Virginia school divisions.


Richmond is the gold bar at 65%. The red bars, from the left, are the peer jurisdictions Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News. The blue bar is superimposed on one of the two divisions at the state average, 38%.


Richmond is a bit improved from the 2016 report. That year we were second from worst at 68%; this year, fifth at 65%.

The distribution of division rates looks like this:


The tall, red bar marks the Richmond datum at 65%, 1.9 standard deviations above the mean.

The Richmond school data show only Community, Ginter Park, Greene, Munford, and Alternative below the state average.


Little kids are notorious for being petri dishes for germs so we could expect the elementary schools to run high. In fact, except for that remarkable 9% number at Alternative, Richmond’s elementary schools reach both ends of the Richmond spectrum.


You might think that the very few schools where the teachers mostly come to work must have unusually heathy students and teachers or excellent principals. I’ll vote for the latter. Similarly, the very many schools where most of the teachers miss a lot of school would seem to have remarkably sick people or lousy leadership. There’s no reason to expect a plethora of sick people when some schools clearly don’t have many.

And, for sure, there is a leadership vacuum downtown and at the Board of “Education.”

In contrast, the middle schools run high while the high schools cluster toward the high-middle.



BTW: Maggie Walker is not a Richmond Public School (although the SOL pass rates there are reported at the public high schools in the students’ home school zones) and the numbers there are in a different universe from even the best of the Richmond high schools.


In any case, it is clear that the RPS “leaders” downtown need to be directed to work that is better suited to their talents.

We might expect the SOL performance to decline with increasing teacher truancy. Here are the reading data for the Richmond elementary schools:


Note: Virginia’s economically disadvantaged (here “ED”) students pass the SOLs at rates some 17 to 22 points lower than their more affluent peers (here “Not ED”), depending on the subject. Thus the school and division average pass rates depend both on student performance and the relative numbers of ED and Not ED students. This punishes the schools and divisions with large ED enrollments. We’ll avoid that issue here by looking at the rates for both groups.

For the Richmond elementary schools, the ED reading rate drops by some 2.2% for a 10% increase in the teacher truancy but the R-squared value tells us that the teacher absences only explain about 12% of the SOL variance. As to the Not ED students, any effect is smaller (ca. 0.9% for a 10% increase in teacher absences) and very nearly uncorrelated.

The math data give similar results.


The division data paint a similar picture.



In contrast to the national data, these Virginia numbers do not show a strong relationship between SOL performance and teacher truancy. They do suggest that the absent teachers may not be much more effective at teaching than the substitutes. And, in any case, the data spotlight a massive, and expensive, management failure, both in Richmond and statewide.