Teacher absences around the U.S. are spiking as learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of substitute teachers continue to plague the education system, according to The New York Times.

Several states around the U.S. have had big increases in the number of teachers absent, with almost one in five public school teachers in New York City being absent 11 days or more during the 2022-2023 school year, and nearly 15% of teachers in Michigan during any week in the school year, an increase from 10% in 2019, according to the Times. The national shortage of substitute teachers has resulted in teacher absences often being filled by tutors who would otherwise have been helping students make up for pandemic learning losses.

“I think this is having a huge impact on our ability to rebound” from the COVID-19 pandemic, Amanda von Moos, executive director of Substantial Classrooms, a nonprofit that trains and supports substitute teachers, told the Times.

“The proof in the pudding is how many people have exhausted their leave and are asking to take days off that are unpaid,” Jim Fry, a superintendent in College Place, a district in southern Washington state, told the Times. “That used to be a really rare occurrence. Now it is weekly.”

Employees in many different jobs and careers are taking more sick days since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to employment data shared with The Wall Street Journal.

“Exhaustion is hitting them,” Ian Roberts, the superintendent in Des Moines, which has experienced 300 daily teacher absences this school year, up from nearly 250 a day last year, told the Times.

Schools in many areas were slow to open back up after the COVID-19 pandemic, with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten leading the push to keep schools closed. Weingarten called former President Donald Trump’s push to reopen schools “reckless and wrong” in July 2020.

U.S. students math scores plunged 13 points in the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment compared to 2018 results. Nearly 70% of students in the U.S. attended schools experiencing chronic absenteeism during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Support for school choice programs has skyrocketed, as well as school choice scholarships, with at least 71% of registered voters supporting them in July 2023, 7% higher than in 2020.

Brandon Poulter on February 19, 2024

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