Despite a couple of years of pandemic upheaval, staff shortages, and political clashes, the nation’s school superintendents are feeling pretty good about their jobs.
As many as 87 percent of these district leaders feel their job is valued, and 85 percent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they were satisfied with their jobs, according to The Fifth American Schools District Panel Survey by the RAND Corporation.
This finding comes even though 95 percent of superintendents agreed their job had gotten harder over the past decade, the survey found.
The survey was fielded to 291 district and charter network leaders. In this report, the first of two, RAND focused on a subset of survey items administered to 222 superintendents between February and April of this year.
The high morale seen in superintendents is in stark contrast to the low job satisfaction rates reported by teachers, which have contributed to staffing shortages across the country. A Merrimack College-EdWeek Research Center teacher survey from April 2022 found that only about 12 percent of teachers were very satisfied with their jobs, with more than 4 in 10 teachers saying they were “very” or “fairly likely” to leave the profession in the next two years.
Here are the key takeaways from the report:
1) Superintendents’ job satisfaction rates are high “even by pre-pandemic standards.”
The 85 percent job satisfaction rate of school superintendents is higher than it is for most U.S. workers. In surveys taken from 2000 to 2019, only about 40 to 60 percent of workers reported to be satisfied with their jobs, according to the ASDP report.
The satisfaction levels reported are also higher compared to rates found in surveys of superintendents in years before the pandemic, such as the New York superintendent surveys conducted in 2009 (75 percent reported satisfaction) and 2015 (a 60 percent satisfaction rate), and a 2006 Idaho survey of superintendents (75 percent satisfied).
The ASDP report hypothesizes the high job satisfaction could come from “a strong sense of mission.” Previous research from a 2002 three-state survey of superintendents showed “making a difference” was the top motivating reason superintendents chose for taking up the position.
2) The planned superintendent turnover rate is consistent with the actual turnover rate from last year.
Thirteen percent of school superintendents said they planned to leave their position at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, which lines up with the actual turnover rate from the previous school year (2020-2021) to this year, RAND found.
The turnover rate accounts for reasons such as “retirements, moves to another district or shifts to a new career,” but does not include “unplanned leaves, such as termination or other unplanned personal reasons for leaving the position.”
There is no national estimate of superintendent turnover. A 2006 study from AASA, The School Superintendents’ Association, suggested that the superintendent turnover rate each year ranges from 14 percent to 16 percent.
Prior research, including one study from RAND, suggests turnover did increase during the pandemic among urban superintendents and those leading the largest districts, but the pattern apparently isn’t across the board.
3) Job stress was the most-cited reason for superintendents leaving their position.
While 29 percent of superintendents agreed with the statement, “I don’t consider leaving my position, or no particular problem makes me consider leaving,” 32 percent chose job-related stress as the leading reason they would consider quitting their job.
“School board relations” and “excessive work hours” were also popular reasons for superintendents considering leaving their position, with 11 percent and 8 percent of respondents selecting those options, respectively.
4) The report shows largely positive implications for school leadership.
According to the report, more than 8 out of every 10 superintendents “felt that their work was valued and were satisfied with their jobs.”
Despite challenges brought on by the pandemic, such as staffing shortages, shifting to remote learning, and fluctuating student enrollment and absence rates, superintendents in urban districts and those in districts with higher proportions of students of color reported higher job satisfaction rates, and were less likely to select reasons that would make them consider quitting their position, the survey found.
This could be due to the COVID-19 federal funding provided to these schools, the report hypothesizes, since these districts were more likely to get relief funding, and those district leaders were the least likely to choose insufficient funds as a reason to consider leaving, as opposed to leaders of rural and suburban districts and districts with predominantly white student populations.
5) Concerns about school superintendency in the long term still persist.
Despite the positive findings of the survey, the ASDP acknowledges valid concerns about the state of the school superintendency in the long term, such as the belief by superintendents that their work has gotten harder over the past decade and the staffing shortages that many school districts face.
The report recommends keeping the workload from falling entirely on superintendents, by “developing strong, well-integrated senior teams across which superintendents can distribute leadership.”
Furthermore, the ASDP suggests implementing more balanced work hours, especially for female employees who usually face more familial responsibilities and are underrepresented in the superintendent position.
The report recommends that superintendents’ associations, education associations, and superintendent certification programs check on the pipelines of principals and traditional office administrators in historically understaffed districts. They should also look into whether the position will still be attractive to job seekers in the future; why superintendents might consider quitting locally; and if there’s enough qualified leadership to take over when current superintendents retire or switch to different positions.