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We’ve already written a bit on our analysis of the cost of leadership in Christian schools, but felt we could dig a little further as we asked a couple questions about women’s leadership:

What about compensation of women leaders in Christian education? Do Christian school personnel and promotion policies and practices treat women fairly?

Two data sources provided us some insights. We highlight these data not necessarily to serve as an indictment against Christian schools, but to encourage thoughtful reflection.

Form 990

Our first source of data comes from the tax forms of nonprofits in FY2019. All nonprofits with at least $100,000 in annual contributions or over $250,000 in assets are required to file Form 990 with the IRS. These can be accessed through databases such as GuideStar, and these forms include salaries and other benefits for employees receiving more than $100,000 of reportable compensation, along with other school expenses. We collected these forms for 22 highly regarded Christian schools across the United States. (For more details on how these schools were identified, check out Erik’s blog post or Erik and Matt’s joint post.)

Figure 1 shows each school’s total number of female employees earning over $100,000 against the total number of male employees earning a commensurate amount. The pale red line represents parity; any schools on the red line employ an equal number of males and females earning over $100,000. For any observations above the red line, we would expect to observe a greater number of males than females earning over $100,000. Conversely, for any data points below the red line, we would expect to observe a greater number of females than males earning six figures.

As you can easily gather from the absence of data points below the red line, no school in our sample had more female employees earning over $100,000 than male employees earning that amount. Only one school achieved parity, employing two males and two females each earning over $100,000. Nine schools had at least one female earning above the threshold, and the school with the most such females had four. Thirteen schools did not compensate a single female employee over $100,000, while collectively compensating 53 males over $100,000.

ACSI’s Tuition & Salary Survey

Our second source of data comes from the Association of Christian Schools International’s (ACSI) Tuition & Salary Survey (TSS). ACSI has fielded this survey annually since 2018-19. In 2021, roughly 700 schools participated in the survey, a 24% response rate. (For more details on the survey, check out Matt’s blog post.) The TSS collects data on a range of school financial, enrollment, and staffing characteristics.

Figure 2 shows the percentage of female teachers, staff, heads of school, administrators, and board members at the median school over the past three years. At the median, over four-fifths of teachers and staff are female, while half to two-thirds of administrators are female and two-fifths of heads of school and board members are female. The relative proportions of men and women in each category have not changed much over the past three years. If the goal is horizontal equity, defined as equal proportions of men and women in each category, the data clearly describe an inequitable situation. Women are underrepresented in administrative roles and on school boards relative to the gender composition of teachers and staff in Christian schools.

A hopeful outlook?

As Christians, we affirm the dignity and gifts of both men and women. Christian schools, which are not beholden to policies governing public schools, should be on the cutting edge of equity practices in school leadership. So, how do we respond to the findings described above? In light of some bleak evidence, is there any reason to hope?

According to a survey conducted by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) in 2016, three-quarters of the public school teaching force was female, while roughly half of principals and only 13% of superintendents were women. In their 2020 survey, they found that the proportion of female superintendents had grown to 24%. For schools part of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), between 2000 and 2016, the proportion of female heads has hovered around one third.

Compare this data with the ACSI Tuition & Salary Surveys from 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21. Christian schools feature similar proportions of female teachers (83%-84% during that span) and mid-level administrators (50%-67%), but nearly double the proportion of female heads of school (44%), the Christian school equivalent of a superintendent (see Figure 3). In a future analysis, we hope to examine whether ACSI schools with a female HOS are significantly different than those led by a male HOS in terms of enrollment, budget, and other characteristics.

Some other positive changes may not be picked up by the data we examine. Research on gender wage gaps in the United States uncover evidence that the pay gap between men and women is closing for younger generations, but not for older generations. In certain subsets of the population, the pay gap has even reversed. These trends may be explained in part by the fact that women are pursuing and attaining advanced degrees in greater proportions than men.

But the data we are examining are not sensitive enough to detect these encouraging changes. High earners and board members are likely to be older members of the school community. We want to continue to benefit from their wisdom, but that means it may take years for women of younger generations to rise to Form 990 salaries or board positions.

Concluding thoughts

In Numbers 27:1-11, we read the account of the Zelophehad’s daughters, who would be left without an inheritance because women were not counted in the census (Numbers 26). Although this predicament arose from divinely given law, God nonetheless vindicates their complaint saying, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them” (Numbers 27:7, ESV), an inheritance they are ultimately given (Numbers 36:10-12; Joshua 17:3-6).

Our data are not perfect for answering questions of equity. The data collected by the IRS and ACSI are intended to hold schools accountable along fiscal measures, but they do not speak to biblical conceptions of justice with respect to the treatment of men and women, or of administrators and teachers.

In other words, there are many questions that our data can’t answer. Nonetheless, they can serve as helpful lenses for critical self-reflection. Here are some questions we would encourage school leaders, education professionals, and Christian school boards to ask:

  • What are your school’s goals for teachers, staff, and administrators? What do measures of compensation, representation, transparency, and equity tell us about these goals? How can schools use compensation to achieve these goals? How often does your school conduct internal analysis with respect to these measures or goals?
  • Is your Christian school conceived as part of a “church” ministry or “parachurch” ministry? Is the distinction important? What are the implications for leadership? How does that distinction impact your school’s compensation and personnel policies?
  • Research uncovers some evidence that men and women, on average, prioritize different job characteristics in an ideal job. Women tend to prefer flexibility and limited work hours, as well as “people” over “ideas.” As a society, we do not reward these preferences equally in terms of pay. What would happen if we reorganized leadership roles around the strengths of our people rather than simply the tasks that needed to get done? What would happen if schools compensated excellent teachers comparably to administrators?
  • Still other research finds that there are structural barriers to female promotion, that women are often encouraged to take accommodations to their professional work in ways that do not help advance their careers, and that these underlying factors may not be immediately apparent. Sometimes, policies like opting out of consideration for a promotion rather than opting in can lead to more gender balance. What are some hard barriers that may make it difficult for women to advance to leadership roles in your school? What are some soft barriers?
  • Does your school have a process for identifying leaders, specifically leaders underrepresented in your administration and board? What categories of representation are important for a Christian school to consider?

[Editor’s Note: This post is co-published by the WLCE blog and the CACE blog, in an effort to bring innovative and relevant thinking in Christian education to our respective readerships.]

Author Matthew H. Lee and Erik Ellefsen

Matthew H. Lee is Director of Research at the Association of Christian Schools International. Erik Ellefsen is a CACE Senior Fellow, the Director of Networks and Improvement at the Baylor University Center for School Leadership. He also serves as Senior Fellow for Cardus, hosts Digital Education, and is a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift project.

More posts by Matthew H. Lee and Erik Ellefsen

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Women Leaders for Christian Education