School & District Management What the Research Says

The Changing Picture of School Leadership, in Charts

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 14, 2022 1 min read
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K-12 schools do show some signs of an “administrative bulge,” but growth in the numbers of principals is not what’s driving the staffing shift.

While the number of public school leaders nationwide has grown at pace with increases in the number of teachers, new data from the 2020-21 National Teacher and Principal Survey show burgeoning use of other administrators, from vice principals to curriculum coordinators. Meanwhile, the number of specialized teachers in core subjects like math and reading has fallen off.

The National Center for Education Statistics earlier this week released data from its nationally representative survey of public and private K-12 school leaders and educators which paints a more nuanced picture of how schools reorganized staff in the first year of the pandemic.

Leadership became more distributed during the pandemic

Principals reported broader administrative staffing during the first year of the pandemic than five years before, with increases in both instructional coordinators and assistant principals. But this growth was concentrated among the 25 percent of schools serving the highest concentration of low-income students.

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Schools developed more specialized programs

The overwhelming majority of K-12 public schools, more than 87 percent, reported they follow a traditional school format. However, the share of specialty schools continues to rise, while alternative schools, including those for dropout recovery, fell from 2015-16 to 2020-21.

The school leadership workforce will continue to evolve

While NCES’s staffing survey doesn’t look ahead at the field, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that other kinds of school leadership positions—such as assistant principals and curriculum specialists—will continue to grow over the next decade.

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