School district leaders can’t address behavior, so they want out

Nearly half of superintendents say they're likely to leave their job within three years due to stressors such as a lack of funding and staffing to address mental health and behavior.

It’s difficult to imagine what students went through during the pandemic. Every student has a different story to tell. But one experience that most share is an emotional toll over the past two years, albeit to varying degrees. And the research bears this out.

84% of teachers say students are developmentally behind in relationship building and self-regulation compared to pre-pandemic levels, impacting educators across the country. As a result, they report an increase in targeted disrupted student behavior and a doubling of classroom incidents since the start of the pandemic nearly three years ago.

The statistics come from a dual-survey report from the education company EAB at the School Superintendent Association (AASA) National Conference on Education based on survey responses from more than 1,000 district and school administrators, teachers and student support staff. The “Student Behavior” survey reveals just where students are right now emotionally, according to their school administrators and teachers.

“Students who exhibit disruptive behaviors are often dealing with underlying mental or social health issues,” according to Ben Court, senior director of K12 research at EAB. “Unfortunately, nearly 60% of teachers feel that pressure to boost lagging academic outcomes leaves them with insufficient time to address behavioral issues, and only 45% feel they are receiving adequate training to do so.”

The second survey, “2023 Voice of the Superintendent,” describes the behavioral concerns among nearly 200 school district superintendents across 37 states. According to the data, 81% of district leaders agree that student behavior is worse than it was before the pandemic, including more than one-third (35%) of superintendents saying it’s become “significantly worse.” Nearly all district leaders (92%) indicated the mental health crisis among students has worsened since 2019, and 57% believe it’s “significantly worse.”

Part of the issue, superintendents argue, is the increasing difficulty to recruit and retain the proper staff to combat these crises. Nearly 80% of leaders say they lack the funding to fully address student mental health and 74% attribute staffing shortages as the greatest barrier to progress in student behavior.

As a result of these pandemic-related stressors, nearly half of the superintendents (46%) say they are likely to quit their jobs within two to three years.

“EAB’s survey of superintendents showed that while most feel more confident and energized than they did a year ago, persistent funding concerns and staffing headaches have led many district leaders to question whether making progress on their priorities is possible in today’s environment,” Court said. “The top priority for those who choose to stay and persevere must be to create a safe, supportive environment where teachers and students are able to do their best work.”

More from DA: Female students are faring the worst when it comes to risky behavior

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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