The Gender Gap in Public Education

Posted on: Thu, 11/16/2017 - 09:00

We often think of public education as being dominated by women. And in some ways it is. But the gender gap persists at the top.

The “gender gap” means women are underrepresented or underpaid – or both – in a particular profession. Gender gaps have existed in almost all professions, public education included. In Frederick County, our first record of standardized pay scales for teachers – in August 1865 – shows that male teachers were set to earn $100 more per term than female teachers. This disparity must have caused quite a furor because it was abolished just three months later!

When we talk about public education in the 21st century, we can still see a gender gap, but it’s a gender gap in leadership. The majority of school administrators nationwide – 63% – are women. That number is about the same in FCPS. But numbers don’t tell the whole story.

While an upward trend exists for women in education generally and for women in leadership in education, there are barriers to entry and advancement. A RAND study found that men were more than twice as likely as women to move from teaching to become assistant principals (a common position for entry into leadership). Once men do move into leadership positions, they earn more than their female counterparts. However, women are as likely as men to move up the leadership ladder – from assistant principal positions to principal, for example – once they get on that first rung.

Disparity still exists in the top ranks of leadership in public education. The American Association of School Administrators conducts a study of America’s public school system superintendents every 10 years – they have done this since the 1920s. Of all superintendents nationwide, 24% are women. This number is up from just 13% when the survey was last taken. In Maryland, we have made more progress; 13 of 24 superintendents in the state are women. That’s the first time in our history that a majority of superintendents have been women!

What are some possible reasons for the disparity? One possibility is that some school boards are more reluctant to hire women into leadership. 82% of female superintendents report that their school boards do not see them as strong leaders; 76% reported that their boards did not view them as being capable of handling district finances; and 61% reported that they felt that a “glass ceiling” still existed in school management. All these factors present obstacles to women advancing into top leadership roles.

How do we overcome the gender disparity in leadership? Let’s start by viewing senior administrative positions as training grounds for qualified superintendents. And let’s encourage states and institutions of higher learning to provide more incentives for women to earn the superintendent’s certificate and more supports for them as they do so – more superintendency internships and mentorship would help in this.

Strong leaders encouraged me on my path to leadership. And in my position, I have the privilege to encourage others. But we still have work to do.

How do you think we can close the gender gap in leadership? Tell me on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.