Education Policy Analytics Lab

Principal turnover: Upheaval and uncertainty in charter schools?

Authors: Yongmei Ni, Min Sun, & Andrea Rorrer

Abstract: Purpose: Informed by literature on labor market and school choice, this study aims to examine the dynamics of principal career movements in charter schools by comparing principal turnover rates and patterns between charter schools and traditional public schools.

Research Methods/Approach: This study uses longitudinal data on Utah principals and schools from 2004 to 2011. The Aalen-Johansen estimator and discrete-time competing risk models are used to analyze principal turnover rates and transition patterns in charter schools in relation to those in traditional schools. We also explore the extent to which school contextual and principal background factors contribute to principal turnover.

Findings: Our analyses show that charter schools had a higher principal turnover rate than traditional schools and very different principal transition patterns. When charter principals left, they tended to move to non-principal positions or leave the Utah public school system altogether, instead of moving to another school as principals. In contrast, when traditional school principals left, they tended to continue to be principals in another school, mostly within the same school district.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that unlike the traditional school principal position that is often regarded as a “stepping stone” along an established career path, the charter school principal position is more likely to be a “stopping point.” This may cause overall principal shortage in charter schools and highlights the need for supportive systems that develop and sustain strong leadership in charter schools.

Principal turnover: Upheaval and uncertainty in charter schools?

APA Citation: Ni, Y., Sun, M., & Rorrer, A. (2015). Principal turnover: Upheaval and uncertainty in charter schools? Educational Administration Quarterly, 51(3), 409–437.