Most superintendents say they’re not ‘very well prepared’ to lead race, equity conversations

Education Dive | by Kara Arundel | October 26, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • Although nearly 90% of school superintendents said conversations about race and equity are either extremely or very important, only 21% said they were “very well prepared” for that responsibility , according to preliminary findings from AASA, The School Superintendents Association’s 2020 Decennial Study.
  • The study’s survey results show urban and suburban superintendents rated race and equity conversations of greater importance than rural superintendents. Among Black superintendents, 65.8% reported conversations about race were extremely important, compared to 58.6% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents and 36.6% of White respondents, according to study’s lead editor Chris Tienken.
  • The questions about superintendents’ views on conversations about race and equity were new to the 2020 version of the 10-year survey, which dates back to 1923 and provides school leaders’ perspectives on how national trends may compare to practices in their communities.

Dive Insight:

he 2020 survey results, centered on the roles and demographics of school and district leaders, comes at a time when schools across the nation are attempting comprehensive approaches for addressing diversity and antiracist practices.

The AASA study also shows student populations are becoming increasingly diverse, although several groups say much more work is needed to improve racial and socioeconomic integration. According to the survey, 34% of respondents worked in districts where less than 5% of students were non-White, compared to almost 50^ in 2010, said Tienken, who offered a sneak-peek at the 2020 study results. 

The preliminary findings also show women are filing into school superintendent roles but still represent only one-fourth of the top district leadership positions nationwide.

Even though the increase in women superintendents from 24.1% in 2010 to 26.68% in 2020 represents only a 2.5 percentage point increase, it is more than double the 13.1% documented in 2000, said Tienken, an associate professor of education leadership, management and policy at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Tienken predicts there will be a higher percentage of female superintendents in the 2030 study because data shows the percentage of female principals is growing. The 2020 study shows women now account for 67% of elementary school principals, 40% of middle school principals and 33% of high school principals. A typical pathway to superintendent roles is through a principalship, said Tienken.

“A majority of educators are females,” Tienken said. “We’re interested that females are represented in superintendent roles.”

However, people of color are still underrepresented in the superintendency. The 2020 study shows women of color represent almost 13% of all female superintendents, and men of color represent 7% of all male superintendents. The results may help educators understand the national context as they work to diversify the superintendency through t policy, professional development, superintendent preparation programs and more, Tienken said.

Among other highlights Tienken shared from the 2020 study’s preliminary findings, based on survey answers from 1,218 superintendents across the country from April to June 2019:

  • Stress and excessive time commitments continue to be superintendents’ top problems, but the vast majority reported they are satisfied with their job.
  • Only 34% of superintendents plan to retire in the next five years, compared to 50% back 2010. 
  • Superintendents are moving into their roles at an earlier age. The 2020 study shows 57% of respondents were superintendents by the time they were 45 years old. In 2010, 49.5% said they were in the top district position by age 45.

The complete survey results will be available in January, Tienken said.

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