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Turnover High for Assistant Principals, Study Finds

Back in October, a group of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin brought us the disturbing news that Texas principals don't stay on the job very long. Seventy percent, in fact, leave before their fifth anniversary.

Now a new study shows that assistant principals in the Lone Star state are almost as antsy.

Researchers Ed Fuller and Michelle Wright of UT's University Council for Educational Administration analyzed 16 years of state data on assistant principals spanning from 1995 to 2010. They shared the results yesterday during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association here in Denver. They found that more than 60 percent of the newly hired assistant principals they tracked were no longer assistant principals after five years on the job. Thirty percent of the original group had left school administration altogether.

That's not to say they all burned out and quit. The largest proportion went on to become full-fledged principals and some others moved to central-office jobs. Others may have retired or moved out of state, thus removing them from the Texas database.

What's disturbing about the numbers in Fuller's view, though, is that turnover in the assistant principalship is highest in lower-performing schools and schools with higher concentrations of poor and minority students.

"We're starting to see that schools with high principal turnover tend to have high teacher turnover and also tend to have high assistant principal turnover," he said. "The kids who need stability the most are least likely to be in schools that have stable adult populations." And it's hard to bring in a new school improvement program, when the staff is constantly churning.

On the plus side, the study also found that principals were less likely to leave the job if they had previous experience as an assistant principal.

"That speaks to the need to give principals more clinical experience than we do now," Fuller said, "and the importance of recommending to people that they become assistant principals before they become principals."

UPDATE: The co-author on these papers is Michelle Young—not Michelle Wright as mentioned above. Thanks to Bruce Baker for pointing out the error.

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