The Power Gap in Massachusetts K-12 Education: Examining Gender and Racial Disparities Among Leadership

November 2021


Though Massachusetts is viewed as a leader in K-12 education, our state grapples with significant racial and gender power gaps in education leadership. This report, developed in partnership with the Women’s Power Gap Initiative of the Eos Foundation, delves into the inequities among superintendents and other leadership roles in Massachusetts public schools and analyzes the cultural, systemic, and institutional barriers that woman and people of color face when aspiring to these leadership positions.

Based on a review of the 180 Massachusetts school districts with more than 1,500 students, this report finds that 80% of districts have never had a permanent superintendent of color. As of October 2020, only 5% of superintendents statewide were people of color, despite the fact that young people of color make up nearly half of the Commonwealth’s student body. People of color are severely underrepresented at every level of public education in Massachusetts, making up 9% of teachers, 12% of principals, 14% of assistant superintendents, and only 5% of superintendents. Educators of color report that racism and discrimination in the workplace make it difficult to be in leadership positions and may deter some from seeking a superintendency.

Meanwhile, this report finds that only 39% of Massachusetts superintendents are women, even though they make up 76% of the teaching force and—as a whole—out-qualify men when it comes to education, credentialing, and experience. The report also details the career paths of prospective superintendents, finding that men spend fewer years in the classroom and progress to leadership positions faster and at a much higher rate than women. Data shows being a middle or high school principal frequently offers a direct path to the superintendency for men, who make up a majority of these positions, while women are much more likely to advance into a central office role first (for example, women hold 60% of assistant superintendent positions—the position second in command to the superintendency). Among superintendents in our 180-district dataset, 30% of men went straight from a principalship to the superintendency, while only 9% of women took that same path. This illustrates a persistent glass ceiling keeping women from the highest leadership positions.

The report concludes with recommendations to help diversify education leadership, such as investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion training for school committee members who hire superintendents, creating more transparent systems for assessing leadership, and building opportunities to the superintendency for positions that don’t currently provide a path to leadership.

This report was released at a virtual event on November 9, 2021.




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