Why Do Principals Leave? Attrition and Turnover Research

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Why is it that about 1 in 5 principals leave their school each year? What causes principals to leave low-income schools faster than higher-income communities? Why are principals leaving the profession?

Here’s a research article you can download from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

This discontinuity in leadership often impedes school success by disrupting growth plans before they come to fruition and has a negative impact on teacher satisfaction and student achievement.

Principals Leaving the Profession

Over the last decade, about 10% of principals leave the profession. They no longer serve as principals at a school.

This could mean a change of industry, retirement, or remaining in education but no longer a principal.

Percentage of Principals Leaving (No Longer Serving as Principals)

Traditional public schools have less principals leaving in 2017 than in 2009.

Public charter schools saw over a 10% increase in the number of principals leaving the profession. In 2013 12.2% of principals left, and in 2017 13.8% of principals left the profession.

Percentage of Principals Leaving (No Longer Serving as Principals)

Why do Principals Leave?

Principals in 86,180 public schools were asked about job satisfaction. They agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • The stress and disappointments involved in being a principal at this school aren’t really worth it
  • I am generally satisfied with being principal at this school
  • If I could get a higher paying job I’d leave this job as soon as possible
  • I think about transferring to another school
  • I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began job
  • I think about staying home from school because I’m just too tired to go
Chart showing principal job satisfaction when they leave the profession.
Job Satisfaction When Principals Leave

More principals feel a lack of enthusiasm about education when they leave the profession. Some feel stressed or overall disappointments in their job when they leave.

NASSP and Learning Policy Institute Launch Intensive Research Initiative on Principal Turnover

A research initiative on principal turnover is in the works.

The remainder of the article appeared first on NASSP.

LPI and NASSP: School Leadership Research

Reston, VA—The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) today announced an intensive research project to identify the causes and impact of principal turnover nationwide. This comprehensive examination of principal turnover will produce recommendations for policymakers at all levels of government, from federal to local districts. LPI is leading the research effort with assistance from WestEd.

Principal Turnover (Leavers and Movers)

About 1 in 5 principals leave their school each year.

Schools in lower-income communities feel the greatest impact, with a principal retention rate of 79 percent, compared with 85 percent in higher-income communities, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education in July. 

This discontinuity in leadership often impedes school success by disrupting growth plans before they come to fruition and has a negative impact on teacher satisfaction and student achievement.

This joint research project will place the U.S. Department of Education figures in context, combining them with national data and current literature on principal turnover. LPI will conduct original survey and qualitative research that will delve deeply into several research questions, including:

  • What, if any, are the common factors among districts with the greatest rates of principal turnover?
  • How do these factors vary across states and regions?
  • Do principals of certain demographics leave their positions at higher rates than others?
  • How do these data vary in rural, suburban, and urban areas, or by other school characteristics?
  • What is the financial impact of principal turnover?

“The research is clear on what effective leadership looks like, but our understanding of why many principals do not remain in place to provide continuous leadership to fulfill long-term goals remains anecdotal.”
– NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti

“Research shows that high-quality school leadership is associated with greater student achievement, including graduation rates and test scores,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute.

“We also know that when principals remain in their schools for longer periods of time, student achievement improves. By investigating the reasons that principals leave schools and learning more about the impact on students, we can help chart a course for increasing principal retention so that all students have opportunities for academic success that prepare them for career, college, and civic participation.” – Linda Darling-Hammond

The first research brief, consisting of a literature review and an analysis of current data, will be released on March 19, coinciding with the 2019 NASSP Advocacy Conference. The second brief will be released in summer 2019, coinciding with the 2019 National Principals Conference, July 18–20 in Boston. Additional original quantitative and qualitative research will be conducted throughout 2019, and a third brief and final report are both scheduled to be released in the fall.


Principal Tribe and NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council.

About LPI

The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness.

If you enjoy informative articles focused on school leadership, research, and learning, consider joining Principal Tribe.

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