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U.S. Superintendents Excited About Their District's Future

U.S. Superintendents Excited About Their District's Future
by Tim Hodges

Story Highlights

  • More than eight in 10 are excited about future of their district
  • Sharp decline in last two years in excitement about U.S. education
  • Growing concern about underprepared students' performance

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- K-12 students returning to class this fall are being welcomed back by leaders who are optimistic about the future of their school district. Eighty-five percent of U.S. public school district superintendents agree or strongly agree that they are excited about their district's future. These attitudes are largely unchanged from 2015, when 86% responded positively to the same question.

Superintendents Remain Excited About Future of Their School District
Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statement. I am excited about the future of my school district.
2015 2017
% %
5 / Strongly agree 52 55
4 34 30
3 9 9
2 4 4
1 / Strongly disagree 2 2
Gallup

These results are based on interviews with more than 2,300 public school district superintendents in the U.S., conducted June 15-July 9 as part of Gallup's 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents.

While school leaders are largely positive about their local situation, this optimism is much harder to find in their opinions of the overall K-12 public education system. About one in three superintendents agree or strongly agree that they are excited about the future of U.S. public education, down sharply from 44% just two years ago. The percentage who either disagree or strongly disagree is up from 24% to 38%, with those most negative about the future of the nation's public school system increasing from 6% to 15%.

Superintendents' Excitement About the Future of U.S. Schools Is Declining
Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statement. I am excited about the future of K-12 public education in the U.S.
2015 2017
% %
5 / Strongly agree 14 12
4 30 20
3 33 30
2 18 23
1 / Strongly disagree 6 15
Gallup

Several factors influence leaders' opinions about the future of education. The latest Gallup survey of superintendents suggests that the most pressing challenges facing school districts are changing.

In the past four years, concern has risen among school leaders about improving the academic performance of underprepared students, and this is now the top concern of those tested. Fiscal challenges remain a significant source of concern for superintendents, as was the case in 2013. Superintendents also report high levels of concern about the effects of poverty on student learning (a question asked for the first time in 2017). Complete results for all issues tested this year appear at the end of this article.

At the same time, concern about meeting rising demands for assessment from the state and federal level has moved down in the rankings. Possibly related to this, revamping curriculum is also less of a concern for school leaders than it was in 2013 -- a time when the Common Core State Standards and new federal legislation increased attention on student assessments.

Changes in Perceptions of Issues as Challenges for District, 2013 to 2017
Using a five-point scale, where 5 means strongly agree and 1 means strongly disagree, please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements about issues facing your school district this year. This year, the following issues will be a challenge for my school district.
Strongly agree/ Agree, 2013 Strongly agree/ Agree, 2017 Change
% % pct. pts.
Improving the academic performance of underprepared students 76 81 +5
Budget shortfalls 73 73 0
Strengthening academic rigor 71 66 -5
Rising demands for assessment from the state and federal level 82 64 -18
Better preparing students for higher education 62 59 -3
Revamping curriculum 69 50 -19
Preparing students for engaged citizenship 51 50 -1
Gallup

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Bottom Line

Public school superintendents begin the new school year optimistic about their own local district, although they are less confident in the nation's schools overall. Local district leaders still struggle to manage difficult fiscal situations and are increasingly focused on the challenges of reducing achievement gaps for underperforming students and addressing the needs of students in poverty. These and other challenges will continue to have the attention of leaders as the nation's students return to school.

About the Study

Gallup developed this research study of K-12 superintendents of public school districts in the U.S. to understand their opinions on important topics and policy issues facing education. Since 2013, Gallup has conducted the survey at least annually. The 2017 report addresses a variety of issues, including:

  • the workplace engagement of superintendents
  • human capital needs in the district, such as recruiting, selecting and retaining talented teachers and principals
  • factors in teacher performance evaluations
  • federal, state and local education policy issues
  • superintendent-board relations

The full report is available for download here.

Perceptions of Issues as Challenges for District, 2017
Using a five-point scale, where 5 means strongly agree and 1 means strongly disagree, please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements about issues facing your school district this year. This year, the following issues will be a challenge for my school district.
Strongly agree 4 3 2 Strongly disagree
% % % % %
Improving the academic performance of underprepared students 42 39 14 5 <1
The effects of poverty on student learning 48 26 17 6 2
Budget shortfalls 52 21 15 9 3
Strengthening academic rigor 22 44 23 8 2
Rising demands for assessment from the state and federal level 31 33 25 9 1
Better preparing students for higher education 17 42 25 10 2
Revamping curriculum 14 36 33 14 3
Preparing students for engaged citizenship 12 38 35 11 3
Gallup

Survey Methods

This survey is an attempted census of U.S. public school district superintendents. Gallup used a purchased sample list of 12,432 K-12 school districts across the U.S. to email their superintendents to invite them to participate in a web survey. Gallup conducted 2,326 web interviews from June 15-July 9, 2017, achieving a 19% response rate. The sample of superintendents was weighted to correct for possible nonresponse bias by matching the obtained sample to targets for all U.S. school districts from the National Center for Education Statistics database on district enrollment, geographical region and location of the district in a city, suburb, town or rural area. The weighted sample thus can be projected to represent public school district superintendents nationwide.

Gallup


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