Minimal Reduction In Principal Turnover Rates Can Save U.S. Public School System $163 Million Annually

October 30, 2014

One-Quarter—Or 25,000—Of America’s Principals Leave Their Schools Each Year,

Hurting Schools, Students And Teachers, Especially In High-Poverty Schools

Los Angeles, CA – A report released today by School Leaders Network shows America’s schools, students and teachers are bearing significant, unnecessary costs from heightened principal turnover – or churn – because little is being done to provide principals with reasonable support after their second year in the position.  The report, “CHURN: The High Cost of Principal Turnover,” is the first to reveal the litany of losses – including critical education resources, disruptions to classrooms and weakened student learning opportunities – that are occurring because America’s principals leave their jobs at a rate higher than nearly all other white-collar professions.

“When we see that America’s principals are leaving their jobs at a rate similar to miners who face dangerous working conditions in underground mines – and at a rate that far surpasses other white-collar professions, including teachers – it is clear that principals need far more on-the-job support,” said Elizabeth Neale, CEO of School Leaders Network, a national support network for school leaders, that authored the report.

CHURN cites a study that found 50 percent of new principals stay in the job for three years and fewer than than 30 percent stay beyond the fifth year—and those who do stay typically choose to move to schools serving more affluent populations with less demanding leadership roles. The study finds that the job of principal is too complex and too isolating and school leaders lack the ongoing support and development required to maintain and foster a long-term commitment.

“Principals are being thrown into the deep end of the pool: once they move into their second or third year on the job, they are generally left to lead and learn in isolation,” said Jean-Claude Brizard, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “We can improve the experience of far more teachers and students by solving for this issue – an issue for which School Leaders Network deserves credit for bringing to the spotlight.”

CHURN reveals that if principals received ongoing support and professional development, and turnover rates dropped by 25 percent, they could save $163 million annually that is otherwise lost because conservatively, it costs $75,000 on average simply to prepare, hire and onboard just one principal. 

“Even though research shows that not one low-income school has achieved a successful academic turnaround without a powerful leader at the helm, principal quality and churn receive shockingly scant attention,” said Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children. “CHURN shows that the cost to our schools, our students and our nation of not providing principals with on-the-job support is too high to ignore.

“By focusing not just on recruiting strong principals for low-performing schools, but also effectively supporting them in their difficult jobs, we would see significantly reduced turnover and far more academic progress in schools whose students desperately need help.”

CHURN calls on funders and decision-makers to challenge the myth that creating a strong principal pipeline deserves the bulk of attention and resources, citing research that shows:

•             Keeping the same school leaders in place for years has positive effects on student achievement, particularly at high-poverty schools, as principals constitute ¼ of the total school influence affecting a child’s academic performance.

•             The negative effect of high principal turnover on student performance reveals itself the year after the vacancy, and it can take the next principal up to three years to regain positive momentum in math and English language arts performance.

•             Positive results occur when dedicated leaders invest in schools over multiple years, and that continuity produces better learning opportunities for students and best supports teachers.

•             It takes an average of five years to put a vision in place, improve the teaching staff and fully implement policies and practices that positively impact the school’s performance.

States with the highest proportion of novice principals also have the lowest graduation rates, shows CHURN, which directly impact the economic outlook of those cities. According to the report, just a 10 percent reduction in principal turnover in high-poverty schools has the potential to affect a single child’s earnings by $30,024.07. That translates into a loss of more than $469 million in additional tax revenues in a region served by an average school district with at least 72,000 students.

The study also provides specific recommendations for how to reduce principal churn based on meaningful ongoing development the School Leaders Network has provided over the last decade to principals throughout their careers: 1) Invest in ongoing professional development, 2) Engage principals in meaningful network opportunities, 3) Provide one-to-one support, and 4) Restructure central office roles and policies.

CHURN is the first in a series of reports on human capital and educational leadership being released this school year by the School Leaders Network, Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners, in an effort to bring attention to critical issues and significant barriers to the educational success of children across America.

About School Leaders Network

School Leaders Network (SLN) is a national organization whose mission is to expand educational opportunity for all students by transforming school leadership practices. SLN provides the structure for public school principals to work together to solve real problems, to become innovative and inspired leaders who improve schools and student achievement, school-by-school, so that all students in under-resourced schools graduate with college-ready skills. SLN’s vision is that all of its principals will have the knowledge, skills, commitment, courage, personal and professional attributes and support to become leaders of high performing schools, so that all their students will graduate with the skills and knowledge to enable them to be successful in college and beyond.

Contact:       Lynn Russo
                  Larson Communications

                  Naush Boghossian
                  Larson Communications
                  (818) 209-2787