How important are principals and administrative support in the retention of teachers?

Why is this question important? Research suggests that teacher turnover poses a significant burden to schools, in both cost and impact on effective classroom instruction (Hunt & Carroll, 2003). This knowledge can be used by principal preparation programs and school superintendants to better train and manage principal's in methods that are likely to boost the quality of instruction and at the same time save precious resources for other pressing educational needs.

See further discussion below.



Results: The study found that a teacher's concern for working conditions is a reliable predictor of teacher attrition the year following the survey. This research concludes that dissatisfaction with working conditions is the primary reason a teacher leaves a school. The study further found that administrative support is the most important factor in teacher retention. These findings were consistent with previous research on teacher retention (Ingersoll, 2001; Ingersoll, & Smith, (2003); Johnson & Birkland, 2003).

Implications: As of 2011 more than 500,000 teachers were leaving the field annually, with only 16% departing for retirement (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011). Schools with students of lower socioeconomic status and schools with poorly performing students are especially hard hit by high rates of teacher turnover (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004). Research also reveals that teachers who are effective, as measured by test scores, are less likely to leave their jobs (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2007; Goldhaber, Gross, & Player, 2007).

Effective principals are pivotal in creating and sustaining a school culture that delivers staff development opportunities consistent with high expectations and holding teachers more accountable to these standards (Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008). To make substantive improvements in overall school performance more rigorous research needs to be conducted on how to help greater numbers of principals become effective in creating better working conditions that foster retention of the best teachers and to work with less effective teachers to make them more competent instructors.



Study Description: This study is based on survey and longitudinal administrative data from New York City public schools that attempts to link working conditions to teacher career trajectories and retention. Over half of the questions in the study came directly from the School and Staffing Survey (SASS) and Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS) sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education. The remaining questions came from research literature and after consultation with school principals and teachers. A total of 4,360 teachers participated in the surveys, representing a 70% response rate.

Administrative Support:

  • School administrative behavior toward staff is supportive and encouraging.
  • Administration consults with staff before making decisions.
  • Administration has a well-planned and enforced school disciplinary policy.
  • Administration deals effectively with pressures from outside the school that might interfere with teaching (district and parents).
  • Administration does a good job of getting resources for the school.
  • Administration evaluates teachers performance fairly.
  • Administration encourages teachers to experiment with teaching.

Related Research:


Alliance for Excellent Education, (2008). What keeps good teachers in classrooms? Understanding and reducing teacher turnover. Washington, DC: Author.

* Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Ing, M., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2011). The influence of school administrators on teacher retention decisions. American Educational Research Journal, 48(2), 303–333.

Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2005). Explaining the short careers of high-achieving teachers in schools with low-performing students. American Economic Review, 95(2), 166–171.

Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2007). Who leaves? Teacher attrition and student achievement (Research Report). Albany, NY: Teacher Policy Research.

Goldhaber, D., Gross, B., & Player, D. (2007). Are public schools really losing their best? Assessing the career transitions of teachers and their implication for the quality of the teacher workforce. Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (Working Paper 12). Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Hanushek, E., Kain, J., & Rivkin, S. (2004). Why public schools lose teachers. Journal of Human Resources, 39(2), 326–354.

Hunt, J., & Carroll, T. G. (2003). No dream denied: A pledge to America's children. National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from,d.cGE

Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 499–534.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Smith, T. M. (2003). The wrong solution to the teacher shortage. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 30–33.

Johnson, S. M, & Birkland, S. E. (2003). Pursuing a "sense of success": New teachers explain their career decisions. America Educational Research Journal, 30(3), 581–617.

Robinson, V. M. J., Lloyd, C. A., & Rowe, K. J. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: An analysis of the differential effects of leadership types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(5), 635–674.

* study from which graph data was derived