AASA Releases Study of the American School Superintendency

September 24, 2007

Report Offers a Detailed Look at the People and the Profession of School Leadership

Amy Vogt
AASA Communications and Media Relations Manager

ARLINGTON, Va. – More women are becoming superintendents of the nation’s school systems, according to a new study released today by the American Association of School Administrators. The State of the American School Superintendency: A Mid-Decade Study also reveals that superintendents are committed to helping all students succeed, have a good relationship with their school boards and find their jobs rewarding despite high levels of stress associated with the position.

The State of the American School Superintendency offers a definitive look at the state of school leadership in the United States, based on a representative sample of school system superintendents nationwide. AASA has conducted an authoritative state of the superintendency report every decade since 1923. This mid-decade report offers insight into the changing role of the superintendent since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002 and the publication of the last state of the superintendency report in 2000.

Key findings of the new report include:

  • Superintendents are drawn to the profession by a desire to help students achieve. The desire to have a positive impact on student achievement is superintendents’ leading motivating factor for taking the job. Desire to lead, interest in the role and commitment to public education are other leading factors. For the most part, superintendents have chosen the profession for altruistic reasons.
  • More women are entering the profession. Women make up more than 20 percent of superintendents, up from 16 percent in 2000 and 6.6 percent in 1992. Some 29 percent of women superintendents say a glass ceiling exists that hurts women’s chances of being selected for the job.
  • A majority of superintendents believe the No Child Left Behind law has had a negative effect on the nation’s schools. They say the top two challenges in implementing the law are getting all students to proficiency despite variables in socioeconomic status and special education placement, and insufficient funding.
  • Superintendents have positive relationships with their school boards. When asked if their relationship with their board is very good, good, poor or very poor, 93 percent of superintendents characterize the relationship as very good or good.
  • Superintendents have longevity in their jobs. Mean tenure for superintendents is 5.5 years and median tenure is near 6 years. This finding is significant because superintendent tenure is positively correlated with student achievement. According to research by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, the positive effects manifest themselves as early as two years into the superintendent's tenure.
  • Superintendents experience high levels of stress, and stress levels are rising over time. The superintendency is considered a very stressful position by nearly 60 percent of superintendents, with 44 percent reporting considerable stress in their jobs and an alarming 15 percent reporting very great stress. Some 34 percent experience moderate stress levels. These are the highest stress levels in any AASA state of the superintendency study, as superintendents face the pressure of meeting increasing expectations with dwindling resources.
  • Superintendents are satisfied in their jobs, despite the stress. Despite feeling high levels of stress, 9 out of 10 superintendents find their work serving students rewarding and believe they made the right career choice. Some 90 percent of superintendents say they are satisfied or very satisfied in their current position.

The State of the American School Superintendency provides insight into who superintendents are and what makes them tick,” said AASA President Sarah D. Jerome, superintendent of schools in Arlington Heights, Ill. “Amid considerable pressures and rising mandates, superintendents are keeping their eye on their mission to help children succeed.”

“I have often described the job of a school superintendent as a mission and a calling, and the results of this study bear that out,” said AASA Executive Director Paul D. Houston. “Superintendents have one of the most responsible and complex roles in modern society. They understand that they are doing something very, very important for the future of America -- they are building the next generation of citizens. They find this work exciting and exhilarating. It challenges them intellectually and it brings out their best.”

The State of the American School Superintendency addresses key issues in public education and school leadership, including:

  • Superintendents’ professional experience, preparation and training
  • Working conditions of the superintendency in an era of rapid reform
  • Superintendent/school board relations
  • Board evaluations and contracts
  • Superintendent tenure
  • Superintendent demographics
  • National trends and key issues affecting education and leadership
  • The history of the school superintendent in American public education

The State of the American School Superintendency is based on a May 2006 survey of superintendents nationwide. A representative sample of 1,338 school leaders responded to the survey. For press requests, please contact Amy Vogt, communications and media relations manager, at avogt@aasa.org or 703-875-0723.

About AASA
The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. AASA’s major focus is standing up for public education. For more information, visit www.aasa.org.