Superintendent turnover breeds instability in districts working toward reform
- EdSource surveyed California’s 30 largest districts and found that in 17 of them, superintendents have been in their positions for three years or less — and nine of those 17 are in their first year.
- Longevity is rare, with only seven superintendents having led their districts for five years or more and only two for 10 years or more, which contributes to problems because major reform efforts often take longer to bear fruit than leadership sticks around for.
- Sometimes, incoming superintendents have years of experience in those districts, which helps with continuity, and other times, new blood helps reinvigorate school improvement efforts — but one issue is that the research base around consequences of superintendent turnover is much smaller than that around teacher turnover.
This problem is seen in districts nationwide. One factor that has continually been pointed to in the diagnosis of problems in Chicago Public Schools is the rapid turnover among district leadership since Arne Duncan left to serve in the Obama administration. The district is now on its fifth CEO in eight years.
One key problem with new leadership is a desire by new superintendents to make a mark on their districts. School boards may specifically hire district leaders to continue the work started under their predecessors, but people are often brought on with big new ideas to improve student achievement.
These local plans must also fit within the legislative whims of policymakers who force reforms from the state and federal level. It is part of why teachers often complain of initiative fatigue. In a recent report, Learning First Alliance urges governors to commit to college- and career-ready standards implementation, for example, instead of abandoning that work just as it is beginning to take hold in schools.
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