Pittsburgh teacher absenteeism called 'startling'

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While Pittsburgh Public Schools has been pushing to improve student attendance, the National Council on Teacher Quality has taken a look at teacher attendance.

In a report released Thursday, the council found that city teachers were out of the classroom an average of 12 days in 2012-13.

About a quarter of days counted are ones approved by the district -- not sick or personal days -- including professional development and designing the district's teacher evaluation system.

About 11 percent of teachers missed class three or fewer days.

The analysis does not count absences of more than 10 consecutive days.

The contract provides 12 sick days and two personal days.

School superintendent Linda Lane said she found the teacher absentee numbers "pretty startling."

She said, "Clearly, we have to address that."

The report, which covered a wide range of teacher issues, was sponsored by A+ Schools and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

The 12-year-old National Council on Teacher Quality, based in Washington, D.C., advocates for changes in teacher policies and is aimed at increasing the number of effective teachers.

School districts across Pennsylvania are putting into effect new teacher evaluation systems. Pittsburgh received a one-year waiver to use some of its own criteria, which are generally regarded as more difficult.

Kate Walsh, council president, said, "Pittsburgh is among a handful of pioneering districts sincerely grappling with teacher quality and the issues that have contributed to the poor health of the profession and demoralization of teachers.

"The district appears to be heading in the right direction, but it needs to double down, with a particular focus on placing its greatest talent in the classrooms serving children who depend the most on a high quality education."

Nina Esposito-Vigisits, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said that teachers don't want to be out of their classroom, noting they are held accountable for results.

Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, said it will take both policy and cultural changes to provide excellence and equity for all students. She said her board will be reviewing the report.

Of the teacher absences for professional development, she said, "We have to deliver it in ways that don't take teachers out of the classroom.

"The best professional development is delivered in the classroom while teachers are teaching."

The report criticizes Pennsylvania for requiring principals only in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to interview teacher candidates from the top 10 percent of an eligibility list.

Coupled with district policies, the report found principals are "unusually constrained in their ability to successfully staff their schools."

It noted that high-needs schools have "a particularly hard time filling positions." It said that teachers who received the lowest rating were disproportionately assigned to the highest-need schools.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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