Choice Media Response to Chrissy Coloma, Community Relations Coordinator & Title 1 Bilingual Parent Involvement Associate, Asbury Park Board of Education
May 17, 2013, 2:53pmET.
In a press released dated 12:30 P.M. EDT, May 17, 2013, Chrissy Coloma of the Asbury Park Board of Education wrote that, "The conclusion about the number of sick days in Asbury Park made by Choice Media was not correct." It stated that the teacher absences presented as sick days included other categories of days off, such as vacation and personal days.
First, the stated number of sick days was not our conclusion; it was a direct, transparent and accurate reporting of the data we were provided by the district, which is presented below.
In our Freedom of Information/OPRA request, we specifically asked for the number of "faculty sick days," and we received a handwritten answer on our request form, directly responsive to that precise phrasing. The numbers written on that form are the numbers we reported. The form was also signed by the district employee providing the data, Ivy Brown. Any interested parties are welcome to examine the original document here:
Again, to be absolutely clear, we did not make an incorrect conclusion. We accurately reported the numbers directly given to us by the district.
Second, and more important, the premise of our report was to highlight both the financial and educational costs involved when teachers are not present. Published research has shown that when kids are subjected to even 10 days per year of a substitute teacher, it carries a devastating impact on student learning. And anecdotally, many principals and subs alike have acknowledged that the role of the substitute teacher is more often about security than educating.
When the average teacher misses nearly four weeks of instruction time out of a nine month school year, it represents a crisis of absenteeism. It hardly matters to the children of Asbury Park, who are forced to endure such frequent substitutes, how their missing teacher's absence is categorized by the district. The effort to redirect the conversation away from the rampant use of substitutes to how many of the teacher absences are recorded as sick days, versus vacation days, versus personal days, is a distraction at best.
If teachers miss this much class, however their absences are categorized, it should represent a serious management problem for the Asbury Park School District. In fact, Superintendent Denise Lowe told us in a recorded telephone interview after the release of our report that the district saw the problem of questionable sick day claims by teachers as severe enough that they had already considered hiring outside private investigators to look for examples of fraud. (The audio of that call, recorded with the Superintendent's consent, is available on request.) That acknowledgement of severity does not seem to comport with the subsequent characterization presented by Ms. Coloma.
In conclusion, Choice Media accurately reported the information it was given about a serious teacher absence problem in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Moreover, regardless how the absences are categorized by the education bureaucracy, the children in those schools would be better served if the district were to focus on addressing the problem, rather than minimizing it to the press.