Walk into a classroom in any public school in the country, and you’ll likely see a woman in front of the class.
Take a detour into the principal’s office and those chances go down.
By the time you get to the superintendent’s chair, particularly if it’s in one of the 500 largest school systems, the odds of finding a woman sitting there are about 3 in 10.
Education is largely powered by women, but in the rooms where big decisions are made—i.e., the superintendents’ offices—the power brokers are often male.
Education Week has reported on the structural factors and barriers that have resulted in the low number of women in the top district position—from outright and implicit bias, lack of mentors and supports, to personal choices.
Those factors were exacerbated during the pandemic, when women in all sectors bore a heavy toll.
Female superintendents in large districts, for example, were more likely to be replaced by men when the positions became vacant during the pandemic years, according to the ILO Group, which focuses on increasing the number of women in the superintendency.
We’ve also explored pay disparity in the principalship.
In a 2021 paper published in Economics of Education Review, researchers Jason Grissom Jennifer D. Timmer, Jennifer L. Nelson, and Richard S. L. Blissett looked at Missouri principal data and found that female principals made approximately $1,000 less annually than their male counterparts—even when the type of school, performance, and working hours were considered.
Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, Education Week will feature interviews with female K-12 leaders—at the school and district levels—about their experiences in the education workforce and how they think the sector can address the gender disparities in high-level positions, as well as salaries. We’ll also be asking them about challenges they faced, their advice for up and coming female leaders, and other lessons and highlights from their professional journeys.