As the latest in its continuing series of research on school, leadership, and classroom practices related to student achievement, McREL conducted a meta-analysis of research on the effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. For this study, McREL researchers identified 27 research reports conducted since 1970 that examined, using quantitative, rigorous methods, the influence of school district leaders on student performance. Using a sophisticated research technique called a meta-analysis, McREL combined data from separate studies into a single sample, creating what McREL believes to be the largest-ever quantitative examination of research on superintendents. Altogether, these studies involved 2,714 districts and the achievement scores of 3.4 million students.
The study produced the following major findings.
- Finding 1: District-level leadership matters. The McREL research team, led by McREL President and CEO Tim Waters and McREL Senior Fellow Robert J. Marzano, found 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. McREL researchers also identified five district-level leadership responsibilities that have a statistically significant correlation with average student academic achievement. All five of these responsibilities relate to setting and keeping districts focused on teaching and learning goals.
- Finding 3: Superintendent tenure is positively correlated with student achievement. McREL found two studies that looked specifically at the correlations between superintendent tenure and student achievement. The weighted average correlation in these two studies was a statistically significant .19, which suggests that length of superintendent tenure in a district positively correlates to student achievement. These positive effects appear to manifest themselves as early as two years into a superintendent's tenure.