Extensive teacher databases exist, yet no such database has recorded national data on school superintendents over multiple, consecutive years until now. A recent study by R. S. White documents how she collected data on superintendents of all K-12 public school districts in the U.S. between 2019 and 2023, manually verifying gender.
White found that 74% of all U.S. superintendents were men in 2019-20 while 72% were men in 2022-23. In addition, 2019-20 saw a 14.2% superintendent turnover, while 2022-23 saw a 17.1% turnover, with 62% of districts experiencing no turnover in these four years. Yet underneath these seemingly minor changes were hidden some significant differences by gender.
Districts with a greater proportion of white students were more likely to have male superintendents. Of all districts led by men, turnover was more likely in those that had a greater proportion of students of color or students receiving free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). On the other hand, districts with a greater proportion of FRPL students, students with individualized education plans, students who were learning English, or students of color were more likely to have female superintendents. Of all districts led by women, those more likely to experience turnover were those with greater proportions of white students and fewer FRPL students. Finally, districts with a high proportion of white students looking for a new superintendent were more likely to hire a man regardless of the gender of their prior leader, while districts with a high proportion of students of color and FRPL students were more likely to hire a woman superintendent for their empty seat.
More research exploring the relationship between characteristics of school superintendents with student outcomes, school climate, and educator effectiveness could prove valuable for better understanding the impact of the superintendency in this period of COVID recovery, racial justice reckoning, and culture wars.
Source: White, R. S. (2023). Ceilings made of glass and leaving en masse? Examining superintendent gender gaps and turnover over time across the United States. Educational Researcher, 52(5), 272–285. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X231163139