School & District Management

Fewer of Today’s Superintendents Are at Retirement Age

A new survey adds to our understanding of the nation’s district leaders
By Caitlynn Peetz — March 21, 2024 4 min read
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Superintendents are substantially less likely to be in their 60s and 70s than they were a decade ago, according to new national data on school districts’ top leaders.

The percentage of superintendents older than 60 has decreased significantly in the past 11 years, from 19.5 percent in 2012 to 9.6 percent this year, according to the annual superintendent salary and benefits survey released on March 13 by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, which has conducted the survey annually since 1999.

The vast majority of superintendents who responded to the survey—more than 85 percent—were 41 to 60 years old.

The drop in superintendents in their 60s and 70s didn’t translate to a steep drop in district leaders’ average age. Their average age for 2023-24 was 50, down from 52 in 2022-23. It was also 52 in 2014, according to AASA’s superintendent survey from that year.

Of the superintendents who responded to the survey, about half had five or fewer years of experience as a superintendent, and the majority had been in their current position for fewer than six years. By comparison, in 2014, just under half of superintendents—48.2 percent—had five years or less of experience in the top administrative role.

The insights add to a slim, but growing, body of research about K-12 district leaders’ demographics and employment conditions.

This year’s survey draws on responses from 2,706 superintendents—the highest response rate since the inception of the study—from 49 states. That figure likely represents about a fifth of superintendents nationwide, as there are more than 13,000 public school districts in the United States.

Here are some highlights from AASA’s survey.

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The superintendency is still dominated by white men

Eighty-seven percent of respondents identified as white, compared to 89 percent last year and more than 90 percent a decade ago. About 4.5 percent of respondents to this year’s survey identified as Black, followed by 4 percent who were Hispanic or Latino.

Men still make up the majority of superintendents, at about 73 percent, the same proportion as last year, according to the survey results.

Almost half of respondents, 48 percent, had five years or less of experience serving as a superintendent. Generally, superintendents in larger districts reported having more experience. For example: half of the superintendents with five years of experience or less work in districts with fewer than 1,000 students, compared with only 33 percent of superintendents with 11 to 15 years of experience.

Meanwhile, most superintendents have been in their current jobs for less than six years.

Similar to last year’s findings, nearly 90 percent of respondents said they intend to stay in their current position during the next school year. Just 5 percent of respondents said they intend to retire next year. AASA, however, cautions that the results could be influenced by sampling bias.

Superintendents’ salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation

The median salary superintendents reported was $156,000, and the total was typically higher in larger districts. While women are underrepresented in the superintendency, they reported a slightly higher median salary ($156,780) than their male counterparts ($156,000).

The AASA report noted that superintendent salaries have generally increased over the past decade, but they have not kept pace with inflation. The median salary in 2013 was $123,775, which works out to $162,916 when adjusted for inflation. That figure is more than $6,000 higher than the median salary in 2024, according to AASA’s report.

Most superintendents are evaluated annually, but without defined measures

The survey also asked about facets of superintendents’ employment contracts.

Approximately 43 percent of superintendents said they had a three-year contract, followed by 18 percent who had a contract of five years or longer. There were no significant differences in contract length by superintendents’ race or gender.

The vast majority of respondents—nearly 90 percent—said they receive annual performance evaluations from their school board, while 6 percent they are reviewed more than once per year.

But, while evaluations are nearly universal, more than half said their contracts do not specify the process or measures by which they will be evaluated, a fact many superintendents have said makes it hard to effectively lead their districts.

Sixty percent of superintendents said their performance evaluations are not linked to student performance or outcomes, and nearly two-thirds said the results of their evaluations are not released to the public, although larger districts were more likely to release the results publicly.

Most superintendents (86 percent) said their contracts do not have an incentive or performance clause that would award a bonus or raise based on the results of their evaluations.


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