Monopolistic Unionism Linked to Higher Teacher Absenteeism


According to government union boss Randi Weingarten, when teachers in overwhelmingly unionized district public schools are nearly three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in generally union-free charter schools, that shows teachers in charter schools are not absent often enough! Image: Warga/News

One typical effect of union monopoly bargaining in all kinds of workplaces, but especially in the public sector, is to make it very difficult for the employer to reward good employees or to discipline employees who slack off.

A recent study by Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s senior research and policy associate David Griffith furnishes a disturbing illustration of the relationship between government monopoly bargaining and employee absenteeism.  The study focused on public schools K-12 teachers

Last week, Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, summarized Griffith’s findings in a commentary for City Journal. (See the link below.)

On average, teachers miss about eight school days a year “due to sick and personal leave.” That’s a little more than double the average annual number of sick days for a U.S. worker.  But the prevalence of teacher absenteeism varies dramatically depending on the type of public school.

In K-12 district public schools across the U.S., which are mostly unionized, 28.3% of teachers are “chronically absent” — that is, they miss more than 10 teaching days out of the roughly 180-day school year “because of illness or personal reasons. But in the nation’s public charter schools, which are overwhelmingly union-free, “the corresponding rate is just 10.3%.”

The inference that union monopoly bargaining fosters chronic absenteeism is strongly supported by the comparative data for the minority of charter schools that are unionized with the majority that aren’t.  Across the U.S., Sand notes:: “[T]eachers in unionized charters are almost twice as likely to be chronically absent as their colleagues in non-unionized charters” — 17.9% vs. 9.1%.

It stands to reason that chronic teacher absenteeism has a negative effect on student achievement. Griffin explains:

There are roughly 100,000 public schools in the United States, with over three million public school teachers and at least 50 million students. So every year, at least 800,000 teachers in the U.S. are chronically absent, meaning they miss about nine million days of school between them, resulting in roughly one billion instances in which a kid comes to class to find that his or her time is, more often than not, wasted.

Of course, the presence of absence of union monopoly bargaining cannot explain all variation in teacher absenteeism in different schools in different regions of the country, but there is powerful evidence it is a major factor.

So how are teacher union bosses reacting to Griffith’s study? Instead of acknowledging there is a problem and vowing to work with school administrators to correct it in the future, union bigwigs are blasting Griffith and the Fordham Institute.

American Federation of Teachers union chief Randi Weingarten suggests that less chronic teacher absenteeism at charter schools shows they are doing things wrong:

The reality is that charter schools need better (teacher) leave policies, not worse ones, a fact ignored by Fordham.

Government union kingpins’ unwillingness to stand up for the nearly three-quarters of teachers in district public schools who aren’t chronically absent demonstrates yet again that it’s a fool’s errand to try to convince people like Weingarten to use their special bargaining privileges to support policies that benefit schoolchildren and conscientious, talented teachers.

Instead, education reformers everywhere must face up to the fact that monopoly bargaining itself is a huge roadblock for virtually all, if not all, promising ideas to improve school performance.

The Truant Teacher Problem | City Journal