At education conferences and meetings held throughout the country, people often lament turnover in school-system leadership, arguing that the average superintendent only lasts about three years in the job. But a new report from The Broad Center, released today, shows that bit of conventional wisdom may be frequently repeated, but it does not bear out in the data.
In “Hire Expectations: Big-district superintendents stay in their jobs longer than we think,” The Broad Center analyzed 15 years’ worth of data from the 100 largest school districts in the U.S. and found that the average superintendent spends about six years in the job before transitioning out of the role. When examining current, ongoing superintendencies, the average time a typical district leader has been in the role is between three and four years.
“The discrepancy between the public narrative and our results appears to be a misunderstanding of the difference between how long a current superintendent has been in the role and how long a superintendent spends in the role before leaving,” said Logan Contreras, assistant director of data and analysis for The Broad Center. “Even when examining the data using other large-city indicators, results for completed tenures have been significantly longer than those commonly cited in the public narrative.”
The report also found that, in the 100 largest school districts in the nation:
- Women are deeply underrepresented in these chief executive roles, despite their overrepresentation at all other levels of the K-12 education workforce. And once in the superintendent role, their completed tenures are about 15 months shorter than those of their male peers;
- In districts enrolling more than 100,000 students, completed superintendent tenures are about 19 months shorter than those of districts that enroll 100,000 students or fewer;
- In districts educating the highest percentages of low-income students, completed superintendent tenures are about three and a half years shorter than those in districts educating the lowest proportions of low-income students;
- Completed superintendent tenures are less than half as long in districts educating the highest percentages of students of color as in districts educating the lowest proportions of students of color; and
- Historically, completed tenures for Broad Center network members have been about 40 percent shorter than the national average. However, current, ongoing tenures have been increasing and are about the same as other large-district superintendents, in general.
“Longer superintendent tenures don’t matter very much if, at the end of the day, student outcomes don’t dramatically improve as a result,” said Becca Bracy Knight, executive director of The Broad Center. “But given these results, it’s clear that we need to do a better job of holding all parties accountable for creating the conditions that can lead to more sustained improvement and raise our expectations for how long a superintendent can and should stay.”