School Superintendents Are not Relevant to Learning Outcomes, Study Finds

superintendents cover_1x1The authors of a new research report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings find that school superintendents “have very little influence on student achievement collectively compared to all other components of the traditional education system that we measure.” 

In “School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?,” Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, Center Director Russ Whitehurst, and Research Analyst Katharine Lindquist examine factors such as student achievement in mathematics by longevity of superintendent; student achievement in years before and after superintendent turnover; test score variance associated with a variety of factors (including superintendent); and more. The study uses K-12 student-level administrative data from Florida and North Carolina over a ten-year period, 2000-01 to 2009-10.

“Superintendents may well have impacts on factors
we have not addressed in our study, such as the
financial health of the district, parent and student
satisfaction, and how efficiently tax dollars are
spent,” the authors conclude. “And to be certain,” they continue:

[superintendents] occupy one of the
American school system’s most complex and
demanding positions. But our results make clear
that, in general, school district superintendents have
very little influence on student achievement in the
districts in which they serve. This is true in absolute
terms, with only a fraction of one percent of the
variance in student achievement accounted for by
differences among superintendents. It is also true in
relative terms, with teachers/classrooms, schools/
principals, and districts having an impact that is
orders of magnitude greater than that associated
with superintendents.

Download and read the report for the complete study methodology, data sources, analysis, and conclusions.

Also see “Do School Districts Matter?,” a paper by Whitehurst, Chingos, and Michael Gallaher.