The Influence of Superintendents on Student Achievement
McREL’s 2006 study, titled School District Leadership that Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement, used a sophisticated research technique called a meta-analysis, to combine data from 27 rigorous research reports on the influence of district leaders on student achievement. Altogether, these studies involved 2,714 districts and the achievement scores of 3.4 million students.
This study, which McREL researchers believe to be the largest of its kind ever conducted, arrived at three key findings.
Finding 1: District-level leadership matters
The study shows a statistically significant relationship (a positive correlation of .24) between district leadership and student achievement.
Finding 2: Effective superintendents focus their efforts on creating goal-oriented districts
Five district-level leadership responsibilities have a statistically significant correlation with average student academic achievement. All five responsibilities (described below) relate to setting teaching and learning goals and keeping districts focused on them:
- Engaging in collaborative goal-setting
- Establishing non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction
- Ensuring board alignment and support of district goals
- Monitoring goals for achievement and instruction
- Using resources to support instruction and achievement goals
Finding 3: Superintendent tenure is positively correlated with student achievement
Two of the studies that McREL examined looked specifically at the effect of superintendent tenure. These two studies suggest that the length of a superintendent’s tenure in a district is positively correlated with student achievement. The positive effects of superintendent longevity appear as early as two years into a superintendent’s tenure.
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