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Researchers Ask the Question: Do Superintendents Really Matter?

Researchers Ask the Question: Do Superintendents Really Matter?

A new report from the Brookings Institution claims that superintendent actions could not be directly connected to student achievement.

The report said that "in the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable," according to an article on

"Superintendents may well be as important to student achievement as the popular perception, their portrayal in the media, and their salaries suggest, but there is almost no quantitative research that addresses their impact," the article said.

The Brookings study, the article said, "was based on 5 questions and was conducted in the states of Florida and North Carolina." Here are the questions:

  1. What are the observable characteristics of superintendents, with a focus on their length of service?
  2. Does student achievement improve when superintendents serve longer?
  3. Do school districts improve when they hire a new superintendent?
  4. What is the contribution of superintendents to student achievement relative to districts, schools, and teachers?
  5. Are there superintendents whose tenure is associated with exceptional changes in student achievement?

According to, here's what the study found:

  1. School district superintendent tenure is largely a short-term. The typical superintendent has been in the job for three to four years.
  2. Student achievement does not improve with longevity of superintendent service within their districts.
  3. Hiring a new superintendent is not associated with higher student achievement.
  4. Superintendents account for a small fraction of a percent (0.3 percent) of student differences in achievement. This effect, while statistically significant, is orders of magnitude smaller than that associated with any other major component of the education system, including: measured and unmeasured student characteristics, teachers, schools, and districts.
  5. Individual superintendents who have an exceptional impact on student achievement cannot be reliably identified.

"Before the report becomes part of an argument that there is a diminished need and value for superintendents, we think other leadership attributes must be recognized," the article said.

Read the full story and comment below. 

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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