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Assessing the Consequences of Increasing Superintendent Turnover and Limited Progress in Gender Equality Poses a Challenge.


Public school superintendents are having a moment, and for many of them, the moment is neither super nor what they intended.

Tense school board meetings erupted in recent years where superintendents were fired Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, south carolina And Virginia.

Contributions to this tension are politically divided issues that many school inspectors have had to navigate the past three years, including the teaching of race, books prohibited And grant access to athletics and restrooms for students who identify as transgender.

In this tense environment a recent study found that nearly 40% of superintendents reported being threatened or feeling threatened at work. And 63% of superintendents reported having been concerned about their mental health and well-being in the past two years.

But while overseers are feeling the heat, policymakers can’t pinpoint influence of pressure on the inspector’s well-being, performance and willingness to continue working.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Education does not collect such data on superintendents, and a nationally comprehensive, annually updated superintendent database has never existed.

like a education researcher who studies superintendentsI decided to create the dataset myself by collecting data per district.

New insights into employee turnover

As of 2019, my research team has spent a whopping 400 hours a year collecting the names of superintendents from nearly all traditional public school districts in the United States.

And for a new one published research study in the academic journal Educational Researcher, I have conducted a comprehensive, national analysis of employee turnover in more than 12,500 public school districts since 2019.

My analyzes showed a sales increase of almost 3 percentage points – from 14.2% between 2019-20 and 2020-21 to 17.1% between 2021-22 and 2022-23. More than one in three states (37%) had a churn rate of more than 20% between the last two years of school.

35% of districts nationwide have experienced at least one superintendent change, and 6% of districts have experienced two or more turnover events.

While we can’t pinpoint the exact cause, my research also shows that districts that serve a higher proportion of students of color are significantly more likely to have superintendent turnover.

This finding is especially troubling given that frequent leadership churn can disrupt a school district’s stability and culture, ultimately impacting students’ academic performance.

The role of gender

Superintendent attrition varies greatly between states and districts.

Urban and suburban districts were significantly more likely to experience employee turnover than urban and rural districts. New research suggests that controversial politics may contribute to superintendent fatigue.

Virginia Superintendent Lisa Coons speaks with the President of the State Board of Education, Daniel Gecker, at a public meeting.
Carlos Bernate for The Washington Post via Getty Images

For example, sixty-five percent of suburban superintendents agreed or strongly agreed that school board meetings have become more controversial, compared to 55% of urban superintendents and 47% of rural superintendents.

My research also revealed that male turnover rates were nearly twice that of females.

Turnover for men increased by 3.2 percentage points, from 13.8% to 17.0%, while the increase for women was 1.8 percentage points, from 15.3% to 17.1%.

Although the jump in the turnover rate for men the the gender gap of the inspector, the gap has barely narrowed. Of the districts that experienced turnover, very few hired a new superintendent who was of a different gender than their previous superintendent.

As it stands, the ratio of male to female superintendents nationally is 3 to 1. In some states, that ratio is as high as 8 to 1.

There are also differences in the characteristics of districts where superintendent positions have been transferred.

Among the male-led districts, those that knew turnover had significantly more students who received free or reduced-price lunches, students of color, and students classified as English-speaking students

Female-led districts that experienced turnover had significantly smaller percentages of students classified as English-speaking students and those receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

A man dressed in a suit stands outside a building.
Shawn C. Petretti, superintendent of schools for New York’s Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, stands outside the district administration building.
John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images

In addition, districts that experienced a personnel change involving a male or female with a higher proportion of white students were consistently more likely to hire a male as their next leader.

Why superintendent data matters

This research is only beginning to fill a huge gap in our basic understanding of American superintendency.

Currently, the most commonly used data or reports on superintendents come from the American Association of School Administrators; the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research institution; and the ILO groupa national education strategy and policy office owned by women.

These resources provide valuable insight into superintendency.

For example, Analyzes of the ILO Group show that half of the country’s 500 largest districts have experienced inspectors as of March 2020.

Based on a survey of 222 district leaders, found the RAND Corporation that 13% of superintendents planned to leave their positions after the 2020-2021 school year.

Yet each of these sources is quite limited in what it can reveal about superintendent turnover due to low response rates, small sample sizes, and anonymity of respondents that prevent superintendents from being linked to districts.

In addition, the EDGE surveys asked about superintendents’ intentions to leave their current positions, a known measure largely inaccurate to determine actual sales.

Due to the limitations of existing data, diverging claims have emerged from both”projected normal velocity” and a “mass Exodusfrom supervisors.

Some states are making efforts to support the collection and analysis of superintendent data. However, states often make it incredibly challenging for investigators, for example by charging a significant fee for data access — as much as $10,000 a year in some cases.

Having this data would provide an up-to-date, comprehensive picture of the superintendent – not just a quick snapshot of a few superintendents at any given time. In addition, national, longitudinal superintendent data would allow a deeper examination of the contributors to and consequences of superintendent turnover.

To ensure that some teachers and students are not disproportionately at risk of unwanted turnover of superintendents, priority should be given to continued support for and efforts to collect and analyze national longitudinal superintendent data.

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