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Principal Survey Offers Snapshot of Mobility, Retention Among School Leaders

Among the nation's school principals nearly 8 in 10 remained in their post during 2012-13 school year, according to new federal survey data, though rural principals and those working in secondary schools were likely to leave than others.

The 2012-13 Principal Follow-Up Survey, released by the National Center for Education Statistics Thursday, is an update of a 2011-12 report. Conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the selected findings are based on questionnaires answered by a nationally representative sample of principals, including those who participated in 2011-12. The aim of the latest report is to gauge retention and mobility at both public and private schools, including a look at principals who left the profession altogether, and those who moved within their district.

The sample size included 7,500 public schools and 1,700 private schools. Of the 114,330 private and public school principals working during the 2011-2012 school year, 78 percent stayed at the same school the following year, 6 percent went to a different school, and 12 percent left the principalship altogether.

Some other takeaways:

  • Of the respondents, 11 percent of principals in traditional public schools left the post compared with 12 percent of public charter school principals and 11.6 percent of their counterparts in private schools.
  • Rural public school principals were slightly more likely to leave the principalship, with 12.2 percent of them classified as leavers. In comparison, 11.8 percent of city principals were characterized as leavers, and 10.9 of principals in suburban schools fit that category. City principals were more likely to move from one school to another within the same district.
  • Not surprisingly, public high schools and combined school principals had a higher percentage of principals who left—13.2 percent and 13 percent, respectively—than primary and middle school principals.
  • Of all public school principals who left the job in the 2012- 2013 school year, nearly 38 percent did so because of retirement, while about 30 percent of their counterparts in private schools left as a result of retirement.
  • For public schools, nearly 25 percent of those who left were still working in K-12 schools but not as principals, and nearly 30 percent were working in K-12 education but not in schools. 
  • Of the principals who were still employed in K-12 education but not in a school, 61.8 percent had moved on to the district office as a superintendent, assistant superintendent or another high level administrative position. And 26.6 percent were working in a district administrative role other than superintendent or assistant superintendent.  

  • Public school principals who moved out of a position were likely to go to another public school in the same school district. And 70 percent of private school principals moved to another private school.
  • There was a higher mobility among principals with more than 15 years of experience as teachers before becoming principals.

The full NCES report, Principal Attrition and Mobility, is here.

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