NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Are Teacher Absences Worth Worrying About in the U.S.?

Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd, Jacob L. Vigdor

NBER Working Paper No. 13648
Issued in November 2007
NBER Program(s):   ED

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 an absence disincentive policy. The incidence of teacher absences is regressive: schools in the poorest quartile averaged almost one extra sick day per teacher than schools 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 raised teacher base salaries and broadened financial penalties for absences could both raise teachers' expected income and lower districts' expected costs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13648

Published: Education Finance and Policy Spring 2009, Vol. 4, No. 2, Pages 115-149 Posted Online April 15, 2009. (doi:10.1162/edfp.2009.4.2.115)

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