What do we know about school principal turnover? (Wing Institute Original Paper)

March 25, 2020

School Principal Retention Overview. Principals are critical to determining teaching quality, and in turn, student learning and achievement; retaining effective principals therefore is paramount, particularly in schools striving for rapid improvement. Principal turnover is higher in public charter than traditional public schools, in part because many charter schools are located in economically disadvantaged areas which have higher turnover rates generally. Less effective principals are more likely to leave their schools, which may imply the chance for improved school outcomes if they are replaced by more effective principals; however, research has yet to explore the extent to which this occurs. Working conditions found to influence principal turnover include negative disciplinary environments, lack of autonomy in decision-making regarding personnel and finances, and salary, whose impact is moderated by job benefits and other nonmonetary working conditions. District and policy characteristics such as tenure/union membership and policies intended to reduce teacher turnover also reduce the likelihood of principal turnover, as do high-quality professional development and support programs. Principal turnover incurs significant financial costs, and often leads to increased teacher turnover and decreased student achievement, unless a ready supply of more effective principals is available to replace low-performing ones. Evidence-based strategies to improve principal retention include coaching, mentoring and leadership supports tailored to a principal’s school context, and pipeline initiatives designed to increase the supply of high-quality candidates through recruitment, preparation, and ongoing development and support. Targeted financial incentives to work in high-needs schools coupled with improvements to principals’ working conditions can enhance retention, as can principal accountability systems that given principals increased autonomy but that also focus on ensuring they can build teacher capacity for the use of evidence-based instructional strategies.

Citation: Donley, J., Detrich, R., States, J., & Keyworth, (2020). Principal Retention Overview. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/quality-leadership-principal-retention.

Link: https://www.winginstitute.org/quality-leadership-principal-retention