Best Practices

Report Offers Remedies for Principal Turnover

Nearly one in five principals — 18 percent — in public schools leave their positions year over year, and that rate is even higher in high-poverty schools — 21 percent, according to 2016-2017 data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. That's a pace that two education organizations consider a "serious issue." Recently, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), teamed up to run a year-long study of principal turnover.

The findings have been shared in a jointly published brief, "Principal Turnover: Insights from Current Principals." LPI conducted focus groups consisting of a total of 17 principal participants from diverse backgrounds, representing 15 states and serving in schools with poverty levels ranging from four to 78 percent.

Past research by the two organizations uncovered five main reasons why principals leave their jobs: They receive inadequate preparation and professional development; have poor working conditions, including unending responsibilities and lengthy working hours; their salaries are insufficient; they have a lack of decision-making authority; and they're required to follow ineffective accountability policies.

However, the focus group participants identified multiple strategies to help retain principals:

  • Making high-quality professional learning opportunities available, especially those that incorporate "robust field experiences with strong mentors and/or internships";

  • Getting support from strong administrative teams that can help balance the life and work responsibilities, adequate funding from the states and school support from community partnerships;

  • Paying competitive salaries;

  • Giving appropriate decision-making authority, to enable the principal to better implement the policies and deploy the resources based on their understanding of their school's needs; and;

  • Providing evaluations characterized by timely and formative feedback that can help the principals set "meaningful goals and improve their leadership."

"These five remedies," the report concluded, "are grounded in the realities of schools and principals' experiences, offering useful insights for district, state and federal policy to reduce the turnover of effective principals."

The full report is openly available on the NASSP website in PDF format and on the LPI website in HTML.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.