About 1 in 10 public school principals left the profession during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to nationally representative survey data released Monday by the National Center for Education Statistics. The national attrition rate of 11.2% is slightly higher than the principal attrition rate last recorded by the survey five years ago, at 9.8%.
However, the attrition rate is not too far from the overall trend recorded since 2008. Julia Merlin, a statistician for the sample surveys division at the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a briefing Friday that "there isn't a statistically different rise in attrition over time."
Principal turnover and job satisfaction was a significant concern for district leaders during COVID-19, during which time principals reported higher levels of stress similar to all other educators. However, these rates suggest long-term attrition is staying at levels similar to previous years.
The NCES survey found more experienced principals and older principals are continuing to leave at higher rates than their younger and more inexperienced counterparts, according to data from 6,500 public school principals.
This trend is also not a new one. "We saw the same pattern in which more experienced principals left at a higher rate than newer principals over multiple school years, meaning that this isn't a pattern of attrition that's unique to 2021-22," said Merlin during the briefing.
Turnover was also higher for public school principals than private school leaders, principals who said they were dissatisfied with their jobs, and principals who led schools serving a high percentage of students of color.
A 2019 working paper published by researchers at Brown University's Annenberg Institute found principal turnover is linked to significant decreases in student achievement and upticks in teacher turnover. Effective school principals are also linked to positive impacts on student performance and attendance, as well as teacher retention and satisfaction.
“Principals are critical supports for a school’s teachers and learners, and the country needs leaders in every school who are committed to the success of each student," said NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr in a statement Monday. "These data are a valuable snapshot for those at the district and state levels who must address the issue of principal turnover in their schools.”