While female representation in district leadership has increased slightly from previous years, women still lead less than a third of the nation's 500 largest school districts, according to the latest report from the Superintendent Research Project, a comprehensive analysis led by ILO Group, a national education strategy and policy firm.
As of July 2023, 30.4% of leaders in the nation's largest districts were women, while 70% were men. The 30.4% is a slight increase from 29.4% in 2022 and 28% in 2021.
The Northeast is the first geographic region of the country to achieve equal representation among leadership in its largest school districts, with 51% of 37 superintendents being women. The Southeast had the lowest representation at 23%, with just 34 of the 150 superintendents in its largest districts being women.
Female representation in the superintendency is slowly inching upward despite the fast pace of superintendent turnover. In the past year — between July 2022 and July 2023 — 107 of the nation’s 500 largest school districts, or 21.4%, experienced at least one leadership change.
This is greater than the estimated 13% turnover rate for superintendents overall from the RAND Corporation’s 2022 “State of the Superintendent” report. ILO Group also found last year that more superintendent transitions occurred during the pandemic than prior to it.
In the Northeast, however, women representation in superintendent positions reached 51% despite turnover rates in the region staying consistent with high turnover trends seen nationwide: 5 of the 7 newly appointed superintendents in that part of the country are women.
And mirroring another nationwide trend, women in that region were more likely to be named superintendent if they came through an internal pathway and served as interim superintendent. Across the nation’s 500 largest districts, 57% of the 152 woman superintendents in place as of July 2023 came from an internal pathway.
By contrast, women are less likely to be named permanent superintendents in districts that have selected their leader externally.
Majority female school boards were also more likely than majority male boards to choose female superintendents, suggesting that "more diverse leadership at the board level may be a potential path in driving broader change in leadership representation," according to the report.
The largest barriers to achieving gender parity are gender pay gaps, disparate access to networks and sponsors, and a lack of commitment from boards to elevate women, said Julia Rafal-Baer, CEO of ILO Group, in a statement.
“While there have been modest increases in the number of women leading districts, we should not celebrate,” she said.