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Yearlong research partnership will examine school leadership issues that affect student success

Reston, VA—The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) today announced an intensive research project to identify the causes and impact of principal turnover nationwide. This comprehensive examination of principal turnover will produce recommendations for policymakers at all levels of government, from federal to local districts. LPI is leading the research effort with assistance from WestEd.

About 1 in 5 principals leave their school each year. Schools in lower-income communities feel the greatest impact, with a principal retention rate of 79 percent, compared with 85 percent in higher-income communities, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education in July. This discontinuity in leadership often impedes school success by disrupting growth plans before they come to fruition and has a negative impact on teacher satisfaction and student achievement. This joint research project will place the U.S. Department of Education figures in context, combining them with national data and current literature on principal turnover. LPI will conduct original survey and qualitative research that will delve deeply into several research questions, including:

  • What, if any, are the common factors among districts with the greatest rates of principal turnover? How do these factors vary across states and regions?
  • Do principals of certain demographics leave their positions at higher rates than others? How do these data vary in rural, suburban, and urban areas, or by other school characteristics?
  • What is the financial impact of principal turnover?

“The research is clear on what effective leadership looks like, but our understanding of why many principals do not remain in place to provide continuous leadership to fulfill long-term goals remains anecdotal,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “We are confident this research project will fill the information gaps and provide definitive direction for how the federal government, states, and districts can best invest their resources to retain leadership talent and advance student learning.”

Using a competitive proposal process, NASSP selected LPI from a pool of the nation’s leading research institutes to manage the project. LPI’s groundbreaking research on teacher shortages has informed national and state policies to improve teacher recruitment and retention. The Institute has also conducted research on effective principal preparation and professional development.

“Research shows that high-quality school leadership is associated with greater student achievement, including graduation rates and test scores,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute. “We also know that when principals remain in their schools for longer periods of time, student achievement improves. By investigating the reasons that principals leave schools and learning more about the impact on students, we can help chart a course for increasing principal retention so that all students have opportunities for academic success that prepare them for career, college, and civic participation.”

The first research brief, consisting of a literature review and an analysis of current data, will be released on March 19, coinciding with the 2019 NASSP Advocacy Conference. The second brief will be released in summer 2019, coinciding with the 2019 National Principals Conference, July 18–20 in Boston. Additional original quantitative and qualitative research will be conducted throughout 2019, and a third brief and final report are both scheduled to be released in the fall.


The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council.

About LPI

The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness.