Effective Principals Decrease Teacher Turnover

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source:  Green & Write, October 26, 2016

Every year, a considerable number of teachers transfer schools or leave the profession entirely. In 2012-13, nearly 16% of all public school teachers moved to a different school or quit teaching. While teacher turnover rates were under 13% in our nation’s wealthiest schools, this rate was much higher (22%) in schools with high poverty rates. These numbers are alarming because teacher turnover is both costly and harmful to student achievement.

Strong school leaders are one way to prevent teachers from quitting the teaching profession. Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks.

Having an effective school principal decreases a teacher’s likelihood of quitting the profession.
Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks.

One major factor contributing to high transfer and exit rates is low teacher job satisfaction, which was examined recently by the Green & Write blog. When teachers are unhappy with their working conditions, they are more likely to leave. A recent study, however, identifies one way job satisfaction, and thereby teacher turnover, might be improved.

The Importance of School Leaders

A study by Susan Burkhauser, titled How Much Do School Principals Matter When It Comes to Teacher Working Conditions?, was recently published in the research journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. She used teacher survey responses over several years in North Carolina to examine the extent to which principals influence teachers’ ratings of four school environment factors: teacher time use, physical environment, teacher empowerment/school leadership, and professional development. The study found that school leaders impact teachers’ responses in all these areas. Burkhauser offered a number of policy implications for these findings. She suggested that when districts are faced with high turnover rates, they could offer their administrators professional development to improve communication and leadership skills. Burkhauser also proposed that districts intentionally recruit principals who have previously demonstrated that they are able to improve working conditions for teachers.

While this study is unique in its methodology and data source, other studies have reported similar findings. A 2011 study by Jason Grissom, a professor at Vanderbilt, found that principal effectiveness is associated with more satisfied teachers and less turnover. Grissom’s findings also indicated that principals can have an even greater impact in high-needs schools. He proposed that policies should focus on recruiting the strongest principals to lead the most disadvantaged schools. Similarly, a 2012 study by Heather E. Price found links between principal-teacher relationships and teachers’ job satisfaction and commitment.

Ensuring Principals Have the Necessary Skills to Support Teachers

While there is plenty of evidence that links strong school leaders with lower teacher turnover rates, preparing principals to lead and support teachers calls for significant improvement. The findings of a 2013 report by the George W. Bush Institute show that in many areas of the country, principal preparation programs and effectiveness standards are weak. In 29 states, there is no requirement to track the outcomes of graduates of principal preparation programs and 19 states don’t even know how many individuals graduate each year. Only six states require that principals demonstrate effectiveness to renew their licenses, and only five states require preparation programs to include a comprehensive set of research-based components. These numbers illustrate that there is certainly room for improvement in how administrators are prepared.

In order for school leaders to have a positive impact on teacher retention, we need strong preparation programs that ensure principals are prepared to lead and support teachers. Better oversight of administrator preparation programs, along with additional professional development for current principals, will help encourage teachers to remain in their schools and in the teaching profession.

Contact Amy: aulettoa@msu.edu

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.