NSBA Comments on Brookings Report on Superintendents’ Impact on Student Achievement

September 3, 2014

Alexandria, Va. (Sept. 3, 2014) - Whether school superintendents are “vital or irrelevant” is the focus of a newly issued report by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. The premise of the report is that it fills the gap in the paucity of available data on the impact of superintendents on student achievement.

Extant research suggests that effective partnership between the school board and the superintendent is critical.

The report relies on a review of student-level administrative data from the states of Florida and North Carolina. The data shared reflect every student in grades 3-8 in North Carolina and 3-10 in Florida who participated in state assessments of reading and mathematics from 2000-01 to 2009-10.

Key findings of the report underscore the report conclusion that by and large, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement:

  • A majority of superintendents have been on the job only a short time, on average three to four years;
  • Longevity of superintendent service within districts does not improve student achievement;
  • The simple act of hiring a new superintendent does not translate to higher student achievement;
  • As compared to other major components of the education system, such as student characteristics, teachers, schools, and districts, superintendents account for only a small percent of student differences in achievement; and
  • Individual superintendents who had an “exceptional impact” on student achievement could not be reliably identified.

The report raises the key question of whether district-level effects are attributable to district characteristics that include, but are not limited to, the make-up and reform orientation of the school board.

“What empowers student achievement is strategic partnership between the governing body, school boards, and the chief school administrator, the superintendent,” said National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “What is left unsaid in the Brookings report is that such partnership is central toward effective collaboration with principals, teachers, and parents.”

NSBA’s Center for Public Education report “Eight characteristics of effective school boards” found that effective school boards lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust. In successful districts, boards defined an initial vision for the district and sought a superintendent who matched this vision. In contrast, in stagnant districts, boards were slow to define a vision and often recruited a superintendent with his or her own ideas and platform, leading the board and superintendent to not be in alignment.

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school board associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at:

Brookings report

Center for Public Education report

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