Report: Average superintendent tenure about 6 years
- A new report from The Broad Center, "Hire Expectations: Big-district superintendents stay in their jobs longer than we think," examined data from the nation's 100 largest school districts over 15 years to find that the average superintendent's tenure is actually about six years, as opposed to the commonly cited three.
- Additionally, the data reinforce that women are underrepresented in the superintendency, and their tenures average around 15 months shorter than those of males.
- Researchers also found that tenures were around 19 months shorter in districts with more than 100,000 students, three-and-a-half years shorter in districts with the highest percentages of low-income students, and less than half as long in districts with the highest percentages of students of color.
The ongoing narrative in K-12 for years has been that superintendent churn is the norm in large districts, with average tenures often cited at three to four years. And these stats often come coupled with outlier cases like St. Louis' eight superintendents between 2003 and 2008, or Seattle's six over the course of 10 years.
The Broad Center's research, however, shows that the average tenure is perhaps around twice as long as previously believed. The length of a person's tenure is a surface-level attribute of a deeper concern, however: a lack of consistent vision that breeds positive impact. On a base level, it's problematic if educators adjust to one leader's vision for the district if that person leaves just as plans are coming to fruition and someone with an altogether new vision replaces them.
In a perfect world, a visionary superintendent's replacement could step in and continue their work seamlessly — but of course, that's not how things typically work. In situations where school boards and other decision makers need to see results, it's important that realistic timetables be provided and that they give initiatives a reasonable amount of time to flesh out rather than pulling the plug amid initial bumps in the road. Simply put, positive change doesn't happen overnight. On a state level, it took over a decade for education reforms in the state of Massachusetts to produce top-ranking students. If a superintendent's plan shows promise based on evidence and best practices from similar initiatives in other districts, it may be worthwhile to give it more time to pan out than abandoning it in favor of a new direction before it can fully take root.
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