Fears of a School Superintendent Exodus: With Data Revealing Massive Pandemic Turnover, New Survey Shows Another 1 in 4 Leaders Expect to ‘Leave Soon’
Receive stories like these directly to your email inbox. Subscribe to Newsletter.
According to a recent survey conducted by RAND, over 25% of superintendents in the United States are planning to leave their positions soon. Additionally, hundreds of others are unsure if they want to continue dealing with the challenges of managing schools during the pandemic, including 67-hour work weeks and staffing issues. This trend is particularly concerning in urban school districts, where superintendents are leaving at a higher rate compared to their counterparts in suburban and rural areas. The departure of these leaders could have a detrimental impact on districts that primarily serve students of color, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Data from the ILO Group, an education strategy and policy firm, also indicates that approximately 37% of the country’s largest school districts have experienced leadership turnover since the start of the pandemic. Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer, co-founder and managing partner of the ILO Group, expressed concern about this high turnover rate, stating that it not only affects individual district’s recovery efforts but also the overall recovery of the country. She emphasized the need for stable leadership during these challenging times to prevent a generation of students from being left behind.
The ILO Group’s research revealed that gender gaps are exacerbated by the turnover in large districts, with 70% of districts selecting male candidates as permanent replacements. Furthermore, of the women superintendents who left their positions since March 2020, 76% were replaced by men. These findings highlight the need for greater gender equity in superintendent appointments.
While there is a significant amount of research on staff and teacher shortages, there has been limited analysis of superintendent turnover in recent years. The last comprehensive study on this topic was conducted over 15 years ago. Comparing the data from that study to the current findings, it is evident that superintendent turnover rates remain consistently high. This turnover can have a significant impact on the progress and stability of school districts, especially considering the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
It is important to delve deeper into the underlying factors contributing to these trends, particularly as neither report discusses the racial or ethnic backgrounds of the departing leaders. Understanding these factors can help develop strategies to address the turnover issue more effectively.
Key findings from the reports include:
1. Approximately 26% of current superintendents are likely to leave their positions soon, while another quarter remains undecided.
2. Urban superintendents are leaving their jobs at a higher rate compared to those in suburban and rural districts.
3. In the country’s largest districts, the gender gap among superintendents is worsening, with men being chosen as replacements in about 70% of cases.
In order to ensure the success and stability of our education system, it is crucial to address the challenges faced by superintendents and provide support to retain talented leaders.
“The efforts to address the gender gap in leadership positions within our nation’s public schools were already progressing slowly, but now the situation has worsened," stated Rafal-Baer. "Despite districts promoting diversity and inclusion, our research and the AASA’s data reveal that a majority of districts continue to hire white men for top positions, and this trend is increasing. Furthermore, these white male hires often have less experience compared to the women and leaders of color they are competing against."
The ILO Group has recommended that state education leaders take several steps to address this issue. These include closing pay gaps, working with search firms and school boards to establish goals for gender equity, creating mentorship networks to support women entering education leadership roles, and implementing stronger family leave policies through contractual agreements.
Since March 2020, approximately 37 percent of the largest 500 districts in the country have experienced a change in leadership.
The high turnover rate in leadership positions within these large districts, averaging at 18.5 percent per school year, is well above the national average. This poses significant challenges for larger districts, including political polarization, unresolved issues related to learning during the pandemic, increased mental health concerns among students, longer workdays, teacher shortages, and enrollment difficulties.
The departure of leaders in these districts will have a disproportionate impact on students of color, as they are more likely to attend larger districts.
Furthermore, the lack of publicly available superintendent turnover and demographic data allows for the continuation of inequities rooted in historical discriminatory practices in superintendent hiring, as highlighted by Rafal-Baer.
By signing up for newsletter, you can have stories like these delivered straight to your inbox.