Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Help Wanted

Dryden's superintendent of schools is departing for Hamburg, NY, after a three-year tenure here. He's telling the staff this morning, so I feel comfortable blogging about it today.

Since a superintendent search was not how I'd planned to spend my one year back on the board, I'm hustling to find research on superintendent tenure and what it means. In this BOCES district, only Ithaca and Newfield have superintendents who have been at their jobs longer than the national average. Lansing can't seem to keep any administrators. Groton's had troubles, too. Tburg had a long-time superintendent leave and seems to be retaining the replacement. An AASA study in 2007 found that the average length of tenure for a superintendent was five to six years; it went down precipitously in urban schools. Women stay longer than men by about a year or so. This is a pretty good review of the literature. It suggests that the frequent citing of two to three years as an average tenure is "media hype."

I found this correlation between academic achievement and superintendent longevity of interest (from Waters & Marzano, in The School Administrator, March 2007):
Our meta-analysis produced an additional finding that initially was not a focus of our study. Two studies that we examined reported correlations between superintendent tenure and student academic achievement. Together, the weighted average correlation from these two studies was a statistically significant .19, which suggests the longevity of the superintendent has a positive effect on the average academic achievement of students in the district. These positive effects appear to manifest themselves as early as two years into a superintendent's tenure.

The positive correlation between the length of superintendent service and student achievement affirms the value of leadership stability and of a superintendent remaining in a district long enough to see the positive impact of his or her leadership on student learning and achievement. Of equal significance is the implication of this finding for school boards as they frequently determine the length of superintendent tenure in their districts.

In his 2005 book Crash Course, Chris Whittle contrasts CEO stability in major corporations with superintendent stability in large urban school districts. Over the last 20 years, Kansas City, Mo., has had 14 superintendents, yielding an average tenure of 1.4 years. Washington, D.C., has had nine superintendents over that time for an average tenure of 2.2 years. During the same time frame, General Electric was run by two CEOs. Federal Express, Microsoft and Dell had one chief executive each.

Whittle, who founded the Edison Schools, asserts that CEO stability at the corporations accounts for a large measure of their success. He argues that the instability of superintendent leadership accounts for much of the low student achievement found in too many school districts. If the stability of superintendents were to approximate the stability of CEO leadership, he claims, school districts likely would experience greater success, assuming superintendents focus on the right priorities and skillfully fulfill their responsibilities. The bonus finding in this truly supports Whittle's conclusion.


Anonymous said...

I would be very interested in your thoughts on the Dryden School District. Our daughter will attend the school in one academic year.

KAZ said...

I'm happy to share at length, but not on the blog. Post an email address or phone number where I can reach you--I'd be happy to sit down and talk to you while my daughter plays with/watches yours. And if you're new to town and a registered Democrat, you're invited to attend our next Dryden Dems meeting--tomorrow, 8/15, at 7:30 at Dryden Town Hall on East Main Street. We'll be talking at length about our upcoming town election, and you can meet our candidates and get to know some locals.

Piz said...

The quote you have is idiotic, in particular the assumption that retention results in improved student scores/learning/whatever. What is just as likely, if not more likely, to be happening is that GOOD superintendents a) somehow improve students, and b) tend to stick around longer, because they're probably doing a good job, which helps. So it is not necessarily retention, per se, that helps students, but some other correlate of a 'good' superintendent that helps students, and good superintendents last longer at a particular job posting.

KAZ said...

PIZ--I would love to agree with you, but I don't. It goes without saying that a "good" superintendent is better for academics than a "bad" superintendent, but part of what makes someone good is experience, comfort in the district, and a long-term plan. "Good" superintendents, in fact, don't last long in many cases; they are recruited viciously. Since in NYS, one's govt pension is based on one's last three years of employment, the urge to go to a higher paying district is tough to deny. There are exceptions--Newfield has a supt who determined a while ago that he would retire from that district, despite his relative youth when he arrived. Part of that may be that his wife is principal nearby, so he's not willing to move across the state. But there's no question that the stability there has helped the district in all possible ways.

I will be looking for a supt who is willing to put down roots--buy a house in the district, etc. I really think it helps.