State of the Superintendent — High Job Satisfaction and a Projected Normal Turnover Rate

Selected Findings from the Fifth American School District Panel Survey

by Heather L. Schwartz, Melissa Kay Diliberti

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Research Questions

  1. Are superintendents satisfied with their jobs right now?
  2. Do they plan to leave their positions at higher-than-normal rates at the end of the 2021–2022 school year?

To examine superintendents' job satisfaction and short-term career plans, RAND researchers fielded a survey to a randomly sampled set of 291 American School District Panel district and charter leaders — including 222 superintendents — and then weighted their responses to be nationally representative. As of spring 2022, superintendents have positive feelings about their jobs despite their consensus view that the job of the superintendent and of schools has gotten harder over the past decade. Superintendents do not plan to leave their positions at heightened rates at the end of the 2021–2022 school year.

Key Findings

  • Although 95 percent of superintendents agreed that the superintendent's job has gotten harder over the past decade, 85 percent were satisfied with their job as of spring 2022.
  • Thirteen percent of superintendents plan to leave their position by the end of the 2021–2022 school year, a rate on par with prepandemic superintendent turnover estimates.
  • Job-related stress topped superintendents' reasons for considering leaving their position, followed by community politics.
  • Higher proportions of superintendents in majority-white suburban and rural districts than urban superintendents thought about leaving their job for a variety of reasons.


  • Superintendents have a near-universal and strong conviction that not only their job, but also the job of schools more generally, has gotten harder over the past decade. This fact, plus the high amounts of job-related stress that superintendents experience, underlines the need for both school boards and school leader preparation programs to invest in developing strong, well-integrated senior teams across which superintendents can distribute leadership. Placing too much responsibility on just the superintendent leaves the district exposed to risks of reform cycles as superintendents come and go and higher turnover of staff in the central office as superintendents are saddled with too much responsibility. More-distributed leadership could make the superintendent position more attractive insofar as it could reduce the high levels of job-related stress and long work hours. In addition, more manageable hours could make the position more tenable for women, who have historically balanced more family responsibilities than their male counterparts and remain underrepresented in the position generally.
  • State or regional professional superintendent associations, education associations, and superintendent certification programs should examine the pipeline, especially for the categories of districts that have been hardest to staff. Is the job still attractive enough for people to see it in their future? What are the local reasons that superintendents consider leaving? Are there enough qualified leaders in the traditional pipeline of principals and central office administrators to replace current superintendents as they retire or move to different positions?

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The research described in this report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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