School & District Management

Racial and Gender Disparities in the Superintendent’s Office, in Charts

By Caitlynn Peetz & Victoria A. Ifatusin — December 21, 2023 3 min read
Illustration showing an imbalance with six stacked male icons tipping the scale and two female icons on the opposite side of the scale.
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There’s a growing body of research detailing the deep gender and demographic disparities that persist in school districts’ top positions. Not only have men long made up a disproportionate share of school superintendents—especially when considering that the vast majority of teachers are women. They’re also more likely to make higher salaries as district leaders and be appointed superintendent earlier in their careers.

A new study—which analyzed data about superintendents in Texas between 2010 and 2021—documented a longer professional trajectory for women and people of color before they end up in districts’ top jobs, and pay disparities for equally experienced superintendents.

The study builds on previous research that has found much of the same across the country.

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A conceptual image of a female being paid less than a male.
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Here are some key findings from the study out of Texas:

Superintendents don’t reflect the state’s student population

There’s a big gap between the demographics of students in Texas and the superintendents who lead their districts.

Although 73 percent of students in Texas identify as people of color, only 21 percent of superintendents do. The disparity is largest in rural areas, where Black and Hispanic students make up about 50 percent of the population, but 90 percent of superintendents are white.

Women are a minority of superintendents, but a majority of principals and teachers

In the 2020-21 school year, women accounted for decisive majorities of both teachers and principals in Texas schools, but just about a quarter of superintendents.

There’s been a small increase in the percentage of superintendents who are women over the past decade in the nation’s second largest state—the number grew from about 20 percent in 2011 to 27 percent in 2021—but big disparities remain.

That’s likely due, at least in part, to structural barriers that work against women—who are generally expected to prioritize their families and are less likely to have professional networking opportunities—and implicit biases that favor white men, said David DeMatthews, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, and the lead researcher on the report.

Women, Black, and Hispanic leaders take longer to get to the superintendent role

Women and people of color are less likely to be promoted from a principal position directly to superintendent, often having to hold several positions in the district’s central office before receiving a promotion to the district’s top position, according to the research.

It’s more common for men and white leaders to be promoted from principal to superintendent, the study found.

Women tend to earn less than male superintendents

Women superintendents, on average, earn smaller salaries than men in the state, even if they have the same level of experience. In fact, the gap tends to grow with more experience.

The only exception is for superintendents with more than 30 years of experience. At that experience level, women, on average, make about $3,000 more than men.

Women, Black, and Hispanic superintendents are more likely to lead the highest-poverty districts

In Texas, Black and Hispanic superintendents were more likely than their white counterparts to lead the highest-poverty districts, where more than 90 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

High-poverty districts were also more likely than affluent districts to have repeated superintendent turnover in the study period.

Twenty percent of high-poverty districts had four to seven different superintendents during the 11-year study period, about double the proportion of districts where less than 10 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

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