There are nearly 14,000 public school districts nationwide, as of the 2010-11 school year (the latest year data are available). While not every district necessarily has a superintendent, the mean annual salary exceeds $125,000, more than double that national median household income. Superintendents’ salaries can be much higher depending on where they work and how larges their districts are.  

A New report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution finds that for all we’re spending on superintendents’ salaries, they don’t add much in terms of student achievement—far less than a 1 percent difference (0.3 percent). According to study authors:

… our results make clear that, in general, school district superintendents have very little influence on student achievement in the districts in which they serve. This is true in absolute terms, with only a fraction of one percent of the variance in student achievement accounted for by differences among superintendents. It is also true in relative terms, with teachers/classrooms, schools/principals, and districts having an impact that is orders of magnitude greater than that associated with superintendents. (p. 13)

Parents interested in finding the best public school for their children, should care more about teachers than district superintendents because, as the authors conclude:

…with rare exceptions, the coming and going of school superintendents can be off her radar screen.

Superintendents associated with substantive improvements in district performance are quite rare, likely to be playing a part in an ensemble performance that doesn’t depend uniquely on them, and difficult to identify reliably using the best empirical strategies presently available. In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable creatures of that system. (p. 14)

Instead of directing such large sums to school administrators, limited public resources should instead be directed to teachers with proven track records of improving student achievement. After all, effective teachers—not district administrators—can add up to one and a half years of additional learning in just a single school year.