A handful of researchers around the country have begun to focus on the rate of turnover in the principalship. The attention is long overdue. While much is known about attrition rates among teachers, scholars know almost nothing about mobility rates for principals. The drawback to some of the newer studies, though, is that they have been conducted mostly in a few states such as Texas. National data on the topic has been harder to find.
Until now, that is.
The National Center for Education Statistics today trotted out findings from its first nationally representative survey on turnover in the principalship. It found that, of the 117,140 people who were principals of a public or private school during the 2007-08 school year, 80 percent remained at the same school the following year. Six percent moved to a different school. Another 12 percent left the principalship altogether and schools were unable to report the occupational status for another 3 percent of the principals who left.
Of the principals leaving the profession, the largest share—45 percent—were retiring. Another 33 percent had moved to another job within K-12 education, most likely a district administrative job. Only 3 percent had left education for a job in another field.
To me, that suggests burnout among principals may not be a huge factor in those decisions. For instance, while 17 percent of the public school principals who agreed or strongly agreed that they had less enthusiasm for the job now than they did when they started their career ended up leaving the field the next year, 74 percent who answered that question the same way stayed in the same school for another year. In all, though, only 23,000 principals—about a sixth of the total surveyed —concurred with that statement.
The survey also offers a gold mine of statistics on what principals do on the job and what their schools are like.
And here's a piece of data around which principals and their students might even bond: More than 10,000 of the public school principals and nearly 3,000 of the private school ones said that, on occasion, they, too, think about staying home from school because they are just too tired to go.