School Choice & Charters

Most Principals Like Their Jobs. Here’s What Makes Them Change Schools or Quit Altogether

By Denisa R. Superville — August 03, 2018 4 min read
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Principals love their jobs, but some would ditch their current jobs immediately if a higher-paying gig came along, according to a new survey of the profession.

Some 94 percent of principals say they are satisfied at their current schools. However, about a quarter of principals would leave as soon as possible if they got a better-paying job, according to the new principal attrition and mobility survey released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Nearly 30 percent of principals say that they did not have as much enthusiasm for the job now as they did when they first started, and 16 percent say the stress and disappointment are just not worth it.

More surprising was the finding that about 13 percent of principals say they thought about staying home because they were too tired to go to school. Principals who admitted their enthusiasm for the job had petered out and didn’t want to show up for work make up the highest percentage (14 percent) of principals who left the profession, according to the data.

Bob Farrace, the spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, says that given that principals consistently spend more than 60 hours or more weekly on school-related activities, the burnout is not surprising.

“The job can consume you if you let it,” Farrace said. “And traditionally, letting it consume you was a badge of honor. But I think we’re at a turning point in recognizing that the long work days and weeks are not only not a badge of honor, but they’re an obstacle to creating the kind of school we all want.”

Conversations about maintaining a healthy work-life balance are becoming much more common, he says. One of the reasons is the recognition that the school “leader’s personal wellness leads to more constructive interactions and a better learning environment.”

Principal Turnover Is Higher in Charters and High-Poverty Schools

In the new survey, the percentage of principals who stayed at the same school in the 2016-17 school year increased slightly over the previous year, and by nearly three percentage points since the 2008-09 academic year.

Principal turnover has been a challenge for the profession. A 2015 report by the School Leaders Network estimated that a quarter of principals left their school each year and nearly half left in the third year. That rate of churn has significant academic and financial consequences, according to the paper.

Principal churn continues to be higher in charter schools than at traditional public schools, according to the NCES data. Charter school principals, though, are less likely to move from one school to another, but it appeared that when charter school principals left a school they were also more likely to leave the profession.

While 9.4 percent of traditional school principals left the profession in the 2016-17 year, that percentage was 13.8 percent in the charter sector, according to the data.

Principal turnover is also higher in schools serving larger percentages of students in poverty. In schools where more than 75 percent of students qualified for free and reduced meals, only 79 percent of principals stayed at the same school for the next school year, and 11 percent of them left the principalship altogether. In schools where 34 percent or fewer of the student body qualified for free and reduced meals, 85 percent of principals stayed for the 2016-17 school year.

Who else is more likely to leave? Higher percentages of principals left for other schools in buildings where widespread disorder in classrooms, students acts of disrespect toward teachers, physical conflicts among students, and vandalism occurred once or more a month, according to the data.

The majority of principals in the U.S. lead suburban schools and more than half of them lead primary schools. While city schools had more principals moving to other schools, a higher percentage of principals in rural schools left the profession.

Few Principals of Color

The profession is still predominantly white, at nearly 79 percent. Nearly 10 percent of principals are black; 8 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race;1.4 percent American Indian/Alaska Native; and 0.2 percent were Asian-American. Women also make up a majority of the profession at 54 percent, and also make up a higher percentage of those leaving the profession altogether.

The majority of principals had been on the job for fewer than three years. Those with three to five years of experience as principals are just slightly more likely to stay at their school. (The report is based on responses from 5,700 principals, and NCES cautions against comparing the results over time. The total number of principals is also an estimate that may not reflect the actual number of principals in the country.)

Unsurprisingly, principals also say they spent a lot of time on school-related work. Nearly 60 percent say they spend 60 or more hours a week on school activities. A higher percentage of principals who work fewer than 45 hours left the profession.

And in terms of their influence, more principals say they felt that they had more influence on setting school discipline policies, hiring and evaluating teachers and setting school performance standards than they did over school curriculum and school budgets.

You can read the full report here.

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Image source: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.