Principals are Leaving Their Jobs at an Accelerating Rate in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania schools with more than 93.7% students of color had an average principal attrition rate of 23.1%.

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A new report by Penn State’s Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis shows that nearly 15.4% of principals left Pennsylvania schools between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. The 4.2% increase is the highest since accurate employment records have been kept.

Out of the 463 educators who left the principalship in 2022-2023, 250 educators became employed in another position with the Pennsylvania public education system.

Nearly one-third of educators found employment in managerial and leadership positions and more than 21% entered district administration. Another 18% left the principalship for an assistant principal position and more than 15% returned to teaching.

“The pandemic played a huge role in principal turnover in Pennsylvania,” said Ed Fuller, education professor at Penn State University and author of the report.

“Principals had to flip overnight from in-person to virtual learning and many of them didn’t have the knowledge and skills to do that,” he said. “They worked long hours while also leading the school, staff, students and their families. It was a lot for one person to take on all at once.

“Also, many of the folks who quit the principalship moved into central office positions,” he added. “The pay is better for a lot of these positions and the pressure is lower.”

In the report, Pennsylvania schools with more than 93.7% students of color had an average principal attrition rate of 23.1%. Schools with less than 5% of students of color had an average principal attrition rate of 11.8%.

The principal turnover rate was also high in the Commonwealth’s poorest school systems at 14.2% compared to 12.7% for principals in the wealthiest districts.

Nearly 32.8% of charter school principals left the principalship in 2022-2023 compared to 13.2% of traditional district school principals.

High school principals were the most likely to leave with a 16.9% attrition rate, followed by middle school principals at 13.8% and elementary school principals at 12.5%.

Black female principals had the greatest attrition rate in Pennsylvania at 19%, meaning nearly one out of every five Black female principals left the principalship from 2022 to 2023.

Black males had the second highest attrition rate at 17.4% followed by Hispanic females at 16.7%. The lowest attrition rate was for Hispanic males at 12%, according to the report.

“Most principals do not last at the same school for more than four years,” Fuller said. “For a lot of high schools, when students come in as a freshman, they’ll have a different principal when they graduate in four years.

“For most kids coming into kindergarten, they’ll have a different elementary principal when they finish elementary school,” he said. “It has a negative effect on teachers and students because there is no continuity in schools.

“Research has also shown that Black students in Pennsylvania schools succeed when they also have Black principals and teachers who stay longer,” he added.

Among the suggestions Fuller offered to address principal attrition includes: an increase in principal salaries, provide stipends for principals at hard-to-staff schools and adopt and implement a statewide principal working condition survey.

“One thing that will help with principal attrition is an increase in pay, but it also depends on how much they like their job and the working conditions of their job,” Fuller said. “Support from the superintendent and the central office will also increase longevity.

“If they’re providing principals with support, mentoring and helping them make decisions they will stay longer,” he said. “Nobody can no longer work over 60 to 80 hours a week for multiple years in a row.

“It’s just not sustainable, so providing more help to principals is also important,” he added. “Does a school have assistant principals and teacher leaders who can help the principals at the schools? Offering more pay and providing more support to principals can definitely help address principal attrition in the long run.”

This story first appeared at The Philadelphia Tribune.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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