What superintendents agree is the greatest barrier to progress in 2024

Chronic absenteeism, student misbehavior, accelerated learning and youth mental health are some of their biggest priorities this year. But one crisis in particular is slowing down progress in all of these areas.

Last week, DA took a deep dive into the EAB’s latest Voice of the Superintendent survey, which revealed a glimpse of hope regarding district leaders’ thoughts and feelings about their jobs. In short, fewer leaders are considering leaving the profession in the next two years. But this shift isn’t due to a more manageable workload. Superintendents still have a lot on their plate in 2024, including one major issue that bars districts from making progress in a variety of pandemic-related issues.

Less turnover, more stability

With fewer superintendents considering opting out of the profession in 2024, districts are starting to see the fruits of their labors unfold concerning student achievement.

According to the survey, nearly 50% of superintendents report a decrease in the number of students who are below grade level in English and math over the past year. The remaining half say they’ve seen either no improvement at all or increases in the number of students below grade level.

“Those leading urban districts are most likely to report a greater number of students falling behind,” the report reads.

Nonacademic challenges

As leaders continue to bolster strategies aimed at raising student achievement levels post-pandemic, several issues stand in their way. Chronic absenteeism, for example, has become a top priority for district leaders this school year.

Sixty-three percent of superintendents surveyed reported either no improvement or an increase in chronic absenteeism rates over the past 12 months, even after rates more than doubled nationally from 2019-2022.

Another problem that’s slowing down efforts to accelerate student learning is disruptive behavior. Some 57% of leaders said there have been increases in disruptive behavior over the last 12 months. Another 20% said there has been no improvement whatsoever.

“Both of these challenges also connect to the continued rise in student mental health concerns, with 76% of districts still reporting an increase in the number of students needing mental health care,” the survey declares.

Superintendents’ greatest hurdle to progress

Despite various efforts to tackle the issues listed above, district leaders agree for the second year in a row that one crisis in particular is slowing down progress: staffing.

Hiring and retaining qualified teachers is the “most urgent” issue for district leaders in 2024, the survey suggests. In fact, 52% of superintendents reported an increase in the number of instructional staff vacancies over the past year. Another 80% said they’re going to have to hire teachers from non-traditional backgrounds in order to meet staffing needs over the next five years.

This issue has also been exacerbated by a rise in staff absences. More than 50% of districts reported an increase in employee absenteeism among instructional and non-instructional staff.

The solution? The authors argue that identifying and addressing employee’s concerns about the working conditions of your schools ought to be your first step.

“Those doubling down on addressing teachers’ concerns can also establish an advantage in attracting the next generation of talent to the classroom, setting themselves apart as a great place to work,” the report reads.

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
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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