School & District Management

Report Calls for More Minority Superintendents

By Bess Keller — February 24, 1999 4 min read

The already startling underrepresentation of minority superintendents is likely to worsen, and current efforts to increase their numbers are “minimal,” a report says.

One-third of the nation’s public school students are members of minority groups, compared with just 5 percent of its chief education executives, according to the report released last week by Superintendents Prepared, a program for aspiring urban superintendents. The program is sponsored by three Washington-based organizations: the Institute for Educational Leadership, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the McKenzie Group, an executive-search firm.

Harold L. Hodgkinson

Experts project that while the proportion of minority students will climb for decades, in 2025 only about 3 percent of public school teachers--the pool from which most superintendents are drawn--will belong to a minority group.

“This should be a national priority because wherever you go the students are diverse ... and yet the leadership doesn’t reflect that,” Xenia P. Montenegro, a research consultant, said in an interview. Ms. Montenegro wrote the report with Harold L. Hodgkinson, a demographer with the Institute for Educational Leadership.

Research Needed

The authors contend that the dearth of data about superintendents signals an alarming lack of attention to the problem.

“We know less about school superintendents than any other set of chief executives in the nation,” Ms. Montenegro and Mr. Hodgkinson assert in the report, “The U.S. School Su perintendent: The Invisible CEO.”

They call on the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education that already collects data on principals and teachers, to conduct surveys about superintendents as well.

The researchers detail what is known about superintendents, including the results of two surveys conducted last year by Superintendents Prepared in collaboration with the American Association of School Administrators. The authors warn, though, that the studies’ low response rates cast some doubt on the conclusions.

For More Information:

Copies of “The U.S. School Superintendent: The Invisible CEO” may be ordered for $12 each from Superintendents Prepared by calling (202) 822-8405, ext. 19, or by e-mailing

The nation’s superintendents are overwhelming male and white, according to the report. About 12 percent are women, up from 4 percent in 1988. Women are more likely to hold the top job in urban and suburban districts than in rural ones, and they hold more jobs proportionally on the West Coast and in New England than elsewhere in the nation.

About 5 percent of superintendents are members of minorities, an increase of only 1 percentage point from 1993. Of that 5 percent, 2 percent are black and 2 percent Hispanic.

The average tenure of superintendents is five or six years, according to the report. The average contract salary of superintendents in 1997 was $98,100.

Nearly all superintendents begin their careers as teachers, serve as principals--more often in secondary schools than elementary schools--and hold another job in the central administration before arriving at the top job. Less than 1 percent have had careers in fields other than education.

Grooming Candidates

The researchers note that while the representation of women in jobs that typically lead to the superintendency has increased over the past decade or so, the proportion of minorities in those positions has largely stayed the same.

“It is disheartening that there has been no increase in racial-minority representation in the secondary school principalship,” the authors write.

In addition to regular collection of data about superintendents, the authors recommend that the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators take the lead in increasing the diversity of candidates for the superintendency.

Far more should be done by schools of education, the authors say, to prepare future superintendents in “pragmatic, action-oriented programs” such as those pioneered by Superintendents Prepared and the Harvard Urban Superintendents Program.

Ms. Montenegro said that more principals of elementary schools, where the representation of women and minorities is higher, should be groomed for the superintendency, and that school boards need to be open to first-time superintendents.

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the NSBA, said her organization is working to help school boards search for and hire superintendents more creatively. “We’ve got to look beyond the traditional path to the superintendency,” she said.

Reaching down into the ranks is part of the solution, added Barbara McCloud, the director of Superintendents Prepared.

“When you look at the pipeline positions ... there are many additional individuals who are interested in the job and have the capacity to do it,” Ms. McCloud said.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 1999 edition of Education Week as Report Calls for More Minority Superintendents


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