ILO Group, a women-founded national education strategy and policy firm, today released a new analysis on the COVID-19 pandemic that showed significant turnover among school superintendents, as well as a dramatic and widening gender gap in district leadership across the U.S. The new data looks at the 500 largest school districts in the U.S., exploring both turnover in leadership during a time of crisis but also how an already egregious gender gap in the sector is widening.
“Just when school systems need steady leadership and stability, nationwide we’re seeing potentially historic turnover. Compounding that challenge, those being hired to lead school systems in this time of national educational crisis are overwhelmingly men. Despite being equally if not more qualified to lead than their male counterparts, for too long, women have faced an uphill battle in reaching those top jobs, and our new data suggest that the pandemic has made that climb even steeper,” ILO Group Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer said. “It’s not just a moral imperative to close gender gaps in district leadership around the country. It’s an educational one as well. Children deserve to benefit from the full pool of talent that’s there, and they also need to be able to see themselves in their leaders. Right now, as a country, we’re going in the wrong direction.”
Gender gaps and disparities in education leadership were significant before the pandemic began. Prior to March 2020, women made up only slightly more than a third of superintendents nationwide, despite comprising the vast majority of the workforce in the nation’s K-12 schools.
Yet, the new analysis shows that since March 2020, when the pandemic first began, significant turnover among district leadership has occurred in the top 500 districts – and that the share of female leaders is dropping rapidly. Key findings include:
- Since March 2020, 186 (37%) of the 500 largest school districts in the country have undergone or are currently undergoing leadership changes.
- 154 (83%) of those 186 districts have completed their transitions and appointed a new superintendent. The other 32 districts have either appointed an interim superintendent or are in the process of finding a replacement.
- In the 154 districts that have completed their transitions:
- 70% of newly appointed superintendents have been men.
- The cumulative proportion of male leaders in these districts increased from 65% to 69%.
- Of the 51 female superintendents who left during the pandemic, 39 (76%) were replaced by men. Of the districts where there are outgoing superintendents but no interim or permanent has been named, there are still two women who are outgoing, so this number could increase.
School superintendents around the country have been departing in higher numbers than usual this year because of the stress related to the pandemic, according to the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. ILO Group’s analysis focuses on an initial set of data that are part of a long-term examination of gender gaps in districts that experience transitions across the country. The “Superintendent Research Project,” launched in July 2021 to investigate long-standing hiring disparities for superintendent positions across the country’s largest K-12 districts and is the first centralized, publicly available database of its kind. In the coming months, the database will be expanded to include analyses of potential racial and ethnic disparities in hiring, as well as offering analysis of geographic and political trends in superintendent hiring decisions.
The study used data from the 2019-2020 school year from ELISI, the Elementary and Secondary Information System provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, then studied each individual district to gather information on their current and former superintendent(s). When there was a leadership change, in some cases researchers contacted the districts directly to gather information on the nature of the transition and the timeline.
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