Busting the Myth of the 3-Year Superintendent: New Broad Center Report Finds Schools Chiefs Stay on the Job for Average of 6 Years

Source: Broad Center report

Nearly everywhere, it seems, new superintendents have been sought recently.

The country’s three largest school districts — New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — have all seen new leaders appointed since the start of the year, with the New York search turning into something of a media circus when the original choice, Miami Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, abruptly changed his mind on live television.

School boards in Seattle and Las Vegas just picked new leaders, and the top job in Washington, D.C., has been open since February, when former chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned after an enrollment scandal. Two of the most challenging districts in New Jersey, Newark and Camden, are also on the market.

But that churn, and the oft-cited statistic that superintendents on average stay on the job for only three years, may be an anomaly, according to a new report from the Broad Center released Tuesday.

“The discrepancy between the public narrative and our results appears to be a misunderstanding of the difference between how long a current superintendent has been in the role and how long a superintendent spends in the role before leaving,” Logan Contreras, assistant director of data and analysis for the Broad Center, said in a release. The center works to identify and train education reform advocates and superintendents.

The three-year figure is for superintendents currently on the job, but a survey of all the superintendents who have served in the 100 largest school districts since 2003, including many who have since left, found that they had been in office an average of six years when they departed.

Superintendents’ tenure was shorter among the biggest school districts (those serving more than 100,000 students) and those with higher proportions of students of color and poor students, the report found.

The report didn’t look at how long a superintendent would need to stay on the job in order to make a significant difference for student performance, and there isn’t substantial research on the subject, unlike for the tenure of teachers and principals, according to the Broad Center.

Alumni of the Broad Center’s academy for superintendents have briefer tenures, serving an average of three and a half years before departing, compared with the six-year average for all superintendents. The center has made changes to its programs that it expects to help, and the average tenure of alumni currently serving as superintendents in big districts is closer to the overall average, the report said.

“But given these results, it’s clear that we need to do a better job of holding all parties accountable for creating the conditions that can lead to more sustained improvement and raise our expectations for how long a superintendent can and should stay,” Broad Center Executive Director Becca Bracy Knight said in a release.

Disclosure: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation provides financial support to The 74.

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