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Survey Finds Leadership Crisis In Big City Schools


NEW YORK � New York City and other large urban school districts are largely unmanageable and have difficulty attracting qualified leaders, according to a nationwide survey of 1,719 school superintendents conducted by a Fordham University team. The survey found that only 18 percent of superintendents said they would be willing to work in a large urban district, while 88 percent of superintendents surveyed believed a shortage of applicants for the superintendency is a serious crisis in American education. Currently, at least 13 large urban school systems, including those in New York City and Los Angeles, are looking for schools chiefs. “The big city districts are too large and unmanageable,” said Bruce S. Cooper, Ph.D., professor of education at Fordham University and co-director of the survey. “School leaders, caught in the crossfire of teachers unions, school boards, parents and politicians, are under intense pressure to produce results fast.” But with a three- to four-year survival rate in the job, an urban school leader is not around long enough to make a difference, he added. Cooper and Fordham education professor Lance D. Fusarelli, Ph.D., along with Vincent Carella, Somers (N.Y.) High School assistant principal and doctoral candidate in education at the University, conducted the survey to learn whether school superintendents still found the job attractive for educators dedicated to school reform. The results of the survey, which was conducted with the support of the American Association of School Administrators, will be available March 3 at Although a majority of the superintendents were satisfied with their own careers and believed they were making a significant difference in the lives of children, 92 percent were concerned that high turnover in the superintendency will mean a serious crisis in keeping strong leaders in the position. There are currently more than 14,000 public school superintendents in the United States. “If we cannot find effective, visionary leaders for our nation’s schools, then our schools will not improve, and student performance will suffer,” Fusarelli said. “The real, underlying issue is quality: If you don’t have it, you can’t expect schools to improve. They will only get worse.” Compounding the problem is a lack of women and minority superintendents – only 12 percent and 6 percent respectively in this survey. The survey, based on a national random sample of school superintendents, also found: 90 percent of superintendents agreed that districts should give them “more help and support to ensure their well-being and job success.” In addition, 90 percent believed higher pay and benefits are a “strong incentive to candidates in considering a career in the superintendency.”  Less than half (49 percent) believed tenure for superintendents would make the job more attractive, and 81 percent wanted more perks such as housing, car allowances and more money to attend professional meetings. 51 percent of respondents were willing to consider “a good job” in another district, indicating a job market that is only moderately attractive and strongly segmented. 18 percent of respondents were vested in pension plans in more than one state, which means the remainder must limit job searches to the states they currently work in or risk losing their pensions.


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