1 in 3 Elementary-School Principals Plans To Retire by ‘92

By Peter West — March 01, 1989 3 min read

Almost a third of the nation’s elementary-school principals will retire in the next three years, but filling their slots with more minority educators will require an “extraordinary” recruiting effort, findings from a new national survey indicate.

“Nearly one in three” of the principals surveyed said they planned to retire by 1992, and almost 56 percent said they would retire within 10 years, according to “The K-8 Principal in 1988.”

The document reports findings from the most recent in a series of polls taken once every decade since 1928 by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

“We began anticipating this kind of retirement [curve] back in 1984,” Samuel G. Sava, the naesp’s executive director, said in an interview last week. “We are going to lose a number of individuals that are experienced and doing the job.”

But those who stand ready to fill their positions, he said, are predominantly white.

Though the elementary-school principalship is “still a male-dominated profession,” Mr. Sava added, women seem to be making greater inroads than ethnic minorities into leadership positions.

He said that if current trends continued, the ratio of male to female principals “could balance out by 1995.”

But the survey’s findings show no corresponding advance for minorities, he added.

Since 1978, when the last poll was conducted, the percentage of black principals has actually declined by 1.1 percent, to 4.4 percent of the total.

The percentage of Hispanic principals has increased to 3.5 percent, up from 1 percent in 1978.

“Our biggest concern is the [small] number of black and Hispanic principals” who might act as “role models” for the increasing number of minority students who will enroll in public schools in the coming decade, Mr. Sava said.

He added that the dearth of minority candidates could be traced to a “number of factors,” including the diversity of career options that have opened up for minorities in recent years. Before the impact of the civil-rights movement was felt, the association chief observed, “one of the few professions open to minorities was education.”

Salary will be a factor in attracting candidates of all races to such jobs, Mr. Sava stressed.

Noting that “the average salary of a principal today is around $40,000,” he said that elementary-school principals are “definitely underpaid.”

Although he would not suggest an ideal salary, he maintained that “if we want to attract individuals into the profession, then I think we’re going to have to have a substantial increase [because] $40,000 for a career just is not attractive enough.”

“On the plus side,” Mr. Sava said, are indications that those who will fill the ranks of retiring principals may be better prepared to deal with such challenges as teaching younel10lger pupils about sexual topics and the dangers of drug abuse.

The typical principal is a 47-year-old, upwardly mobile man who considers himself “politically conservative” and who has been a professional educator for 22 years.

“Unsatisfactory student performance” is regarded by most principals as their greatest current or potential problem.

Principals typically hold a master’s degree and state certification as a principal.

Most of those surveyed said they would “certainly” or “probably” become a K-8 principal again, if they were to start their careers over.

The study was based on responses to an 84-page questionnaire mailed to 2,414 public-school principals in the spring of 1987. According to the naesp, 834 principals responded to the survey.

Copies of the report, which was prepared by James L. Doud, a professor of school administration at the University of Northern Iowa and the director of the Iowa Principal’s Academy, are available for $9.75 each, plus mailing and handling charges, from the n.a.e.s.p., 1615 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 1989 edition of Education Week as 1 in 3 Elementary-School Principals Plans To Retire by ‘92