- The COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to a “potentially historic turnover” in school superintendency in the nation’s largest school systems. Of the 500 biggest school districts, 37% have undergone or are currently undergoing leadership changes since March 2020, according to a new report by the ILO Group, a national education strategy and policy firm.
- The share of female leadership also declined from March 2020. Of the 154 districts that completed leadership transitions, 70% of newly appointed superintendents were men, according to the report. Of the 51 female superintendents who left during the pandemic, 39 were replaced by men.
- To shift the gender balance in district leadership, the report recommends setting clear, public goals for gender equity at the superintendent level and creating family-friendly structures and policies.
Turnover and gender gaps in education leadership were prevalent prior to the pandemic, but the stress of leading an education system during the public health crisis is compounding efforts at sustaining stability in K-12 school leadership, said the study.
Julia Rafal-Baer, ILO co-founder and managing partner, said in an email that other publicly available sources attribute the turnover to pandemic-induced stress and political polarization. A recent report from the National Women's Law Center said 27 times more men than women joined the labor force overall in January 2022, which likely reflects uneven caregiving responsibilities between men and women.
Prior to the pandemic's full impact on education, a decennial study from AASA, The School Superintendents Association, found the percentage of female superintendents actually increased slightly over 10 years from 2010 when it was 24.1%, to 26.7% in 2020 The AASA report points out the share of women in the top leadership position in education exceeds the 5.4% of S&P 500 companies led by a woman.
The ILO report attributes the superintendency gender gap to social factors, such as existing professional networks that favor men. It also blamed skewed career pipelines that favor male leaders and biases in the hiring process.
Data for the report came from the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2019-20 school year. Gender pronouns for the study were used based on superintendents' profiles or in news articles about the superintendents.
As school systems recover from the pandemic, it's important that district leadership reflect the diversity of the school systems they represent, the report said.
"Children deserve to see themselves in their educational leaders and research shows it helps with their success in school, yet the pandemic and our existing institutional structures undercut efforts to hire more women leaders," Rafal-Baer said.
Rafal-Baer suggests one immediate solution is for school systems to address gender pay gaps, which range from $19,000 to $38,000 for male and female school superintendents, according to a 2014 study by the Council of the Great City Schools.
Although concerns are growing about turnover and shortages in the entire education career pipeline, including for substitute teachers, special education teachers and principals, efforts are underway to address recruitment and retention.
School systems are focusing on the health and well-being of staff, including administrators. AASA launched a “Live Well. Lead Well” campaign last year to provide opportunities for district leaders to address job stress and focus on self care