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Principal turnover continues to plague schools, as principals are asked to perform multiple roles

Principal turnover continues to plague schools, as principals are asked to perform multiple roles

Being an instructional coach, troubleshooter and financial manager in high pressure environments drives administrators away just as experience value kicks in, experts say.


POSTED October 5, 2015 7:59 a.m.
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Spurred by escalating pressures for performance and a multitude of job demands in a high stress environment, principals are quitting the job at unprecedented rates, according to the Hechinger Report.

More than half of principals leave within five years of taking office, researchers have found, before they have been able to reshape the culture and stabilize staffing under their leadership.

"The departure of a principal often sets off an exodus of teachers," the Hechinger report notes. "School culture can also be disrupted, and parent engagement wavers." Hechninger cites a study at Mount Holyoke College that found that after principals leave, schools typically suffer two years of academic decline.

Analysts attribute the rapid exits by school leaders to an overload of roles and pressures, as well as a hostile work environment in many of the most challenging schools.

"The new generation of principals, though, especially those who work in urban schools, have become far more involved with what happens in the classroom," according to the Hechinger Report. "Spurred by new state laws that call for improved methods of teacher evaluation, many districts across the country are looking for principals to serve as instructional leaders and talent judges — helping teachers improve, rewarding those deemed 'most effective' and firing those who aren’t."

Last year,School Leaders Network estimated that the cost of replacing a principal — from the search to the training and mentoring that follows — averages $75,000 each time.

In addition to the transition costs, the school loses out on the growth that quality leaders can offer. The SLN report noted that “not a single school has ever been found to accomplish turnaround achievement without a powerful leader at the helm of the change effort.”

The rapid turnover is most severe in high-poverty schools where good teachers and administrators are most needed, Robert Maranto, a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, told the Deseret News.

One charter network that retains its leadership, the SLN report suggests, is the Knowledge is Power Program, a highly successful national network of charter schools. KIPP invests $150,000 in preparing and supporting new principals and suffers only 17 percent principal turnover, compared with 29 percent at the average charter.

“I think it’s worth it,” Maranto said in an interview. “In the U.S. military, we spend that much or more in preparing lieutenants and captains.”

One reason principals turn over so rapidly is that their roles are both ill-defined and overwhelming.

“We expect the principal to be a business manager, a CEO, the instructional manager and the discipline person,” Amber Northern, vice president for research at the Fordham Institute, said. “They are crumbling under the pressure because we have given them an entirely unmanageable job.”
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