Blog: Study released on principal turnover, including Baltimore's, takes critical look at impact on schools

A recent study commissioned by New Leaders for New Schools and conducted by RAND Corp., shows that first-year principals and becoming less likely to stay in their schools after one or two years, and that a churning principal pool can have a negative impact on schools.

The report, titled "First-year principals in Urban School Districts: How Actions and Working Conditions Relate to Outcomes" takes a look at turnover rates in urban school systems like Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, Oakland, Memphis, and New York City.

New Leaders for New Schools is a NY-based organization that trains and places principals; the organization has produced nearly half the city's new principals in the last four years.

The city had among the lowest retention rates among the districts included in the study, a trend The Sun has documented for the last couple of years.

In August, we reported that of the 188 school principals who were leading schools when city schools CEO Andres Alonso arrived in 2007, 50 remain. Another nine principals still lead schools in the system but have been transferred to new posts. The district's principal corps is also markedly more young, with less experience, and more are coming from outside of Baltimore, and Maryland.

The report also researched four-year-trends of first-year principals in districts. noting that of the 39 new Baltimore city principals sampled in 2008, only 16 were still there in 2011.

The New Leaders report, which can be found here, delves a bit into why principals are abadoning their posts in challenged school systems like Baltimore. Among them are the difficulty in turning around poor-performing schools, and the pressures of doing so in a short period of time.

Among the other facts found in the study are:

1. New principals placed in schools that aren't making AYP are more likely to leave

2. New principals are more likely to leave when test scores decline in their first year

3. The vast majority of schools that lost its principal after one year noted declining achievement in subsequent years with a new principal

The report concluded: "While some argue that it is a good idea for districts to act quickly and replace principals who do not do well, principal turnover can have negative effects on students and teachers.

Our research reveals that the replacement principals often fare no better than those who were removed. Overall, schools that lose a new principal after one year do not perform well in the subsequent year under (another) new principal. More research on schools that experience constant leadership turnover is needed to explore the role of that context in observed outcomes."

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