Panel Paper: Employee Absences, Temporary Workers, and Productivity: Evidence from Regular and Substitute Teachers

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8209 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jing Liu, Susanna Loeb and Ying Shi, Stanford University

Significant work time is lost every year due to worker absence. However, research is scarce on how worker absence impacts productivity and the role of temporary workers in mitigating the negative consequences of worker absence. Using detailed administrative and survey data from a medium-sized urban school district, we document the unequal distribution of teacher absences and substitute teachers across schools. Although schools with higher shares of disadvantaged students as measured by under-represented minorities or low-achievers do not systematically have higher incidences of teacher absence, they exhibit lower rates of substitute coverage for those absences. The perceived quality of substitutes by regular teachers are generally low, and is especially so in disadvantaged schools. We further estimate the impact of teacher absence and the use of substitute teachers on student achievement and attendance. Our approach relies on rich data on the timing and type of worker absences and detailed characteristics of substitutes to address endogeneity concerns. Preliminary analyses using a teacher fixed effects model suggest that 10 days of math teacher absence lead to three percent of a SD decrease in student math scores. The effects of teacher absence depend on factors such as whether the absence is covered by a substitute teacher, the share of regular teachers in each school who are absent simultaneously, timing of the absence, and the means through which the substitute was matched to the position. Overall the results provide evidence that substitute quality mediates the negative effects of worker absence.