The Pandemic, Political Tensions and Limited Guidance and Resources Cited as Major Factors

Reston, VA — The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) released results today from a nationally representative survey of principals exploring their retention risks due to lingering effects of the coronavirus outbreak, a tense and politically-charged environment and limited guidance and resources.

“This survey shows that the principal pipeline is becoming increasingly fractured at all levels, in every region of the country and in all school types,” said NASSP President Gregg Wieczorek. “Recruiting and retaining school leaders will become even more difficult, if more is not done to support educators in our schools.”

“While this will impact all students, historically marginalized communities, students of color and those who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds will be disproportionately affected by the departure of our strong and dedicated school leaders,” said NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe. “To prevent this, and the irreparable damage it will cause, we must act now.”


Finding #1: If we continue on this same course, there will be a mass exodus of principals from our preK-12 schools.

Job satisfaction is at an ultimate low with almost 4 out of 10 principals (38%) expecting to leave the profession in the next three years.

  • Only one-third (35%) “strongly agree” with being generally satisfied as principal of their school. This is a significant drop from the 63% who strongly agreed in 2019.
  • A mere 24% “strongly agree” that they plan to remain a principal until they retire. Understandably, this figure significantly increases for principals over the age of 55, but it is still only 50%.
  • While 9% “strongly agree” that they think about transferring to another school, 13% “strongly agree” that ​​the stress and disappointments of serving as principal of their school aren’t really worth it.
  • Consequently, 13% “strongly agree” and 15% “somewhat agree” that they definitely plan to leave the principalship as soon as they can.
  • 21% “strongly agree” that they will continue as principal until something better comes along.

The principal pipeline is directly affected by the teacher shortage.

  • 68% of principals report being concerned about the teacher shortage in the 2021-22 school year, with 41% reporting they are “extremely concerned.”
    • The concern increases to 88% for principals in schools with a population of 50+% of students from low-income families and 83% for principals in schools with a population of 50+% students of color.
  • Similarly, 68% are concerned about educator burnout, with 44% reporting they are “extremely concerned.”
  • And 68% report it has been more difficult to hire good, qualified teachers in their school since the coronavirus outbreak began.
  • Only 23% “strongly agree” that the size of their administrative team is adequate to support staff and students in their building.

Finding #2: COVID has drastically impacted the principal’s role and the challenges principals face in their schools.

Almost half of all school leaders (47%) report that the role of the principal has changed “a great deal” since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • 79% of principals report they have been working harder, 73% report working longer hours and 62% report having a harder time doing their job than ever before.
  • More than one-quarter (26%) report that the pandemic had a “great deal” of impact on their inclination to consider leaving their role as principal.
  • During this school year, 51% of principals are concerned about mask mandates, and 62% are concerned about vaccine requirements.
  • Only 11% are “very worried” that they might contract COVID-19 at work and then infect someone in their family.

At the heart of principal concern is student and staff wellness.

  • Principals report that their three biggest challenges during the coronavirus outbreak include implementing blended and distance learning (60%), providing mental health support to students (59%) and providing guidance and mental health support to teachers and staff (58%).
  • 9 out of 10 are concerned about student wellness this school year, with 49% reporting they are “extremely concerned.”
  • Only 21% “strongly agree” that there are adequate student services personnel (such as nurses and counselors) to support students’ well-being in their building.

Finding #3: The tense political environment is accelerating some school leaders’ decisions to leave the profession.

More than one-third of principals report being threatened in response to the steps they have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their school.

  • 34% of all principals report receiving online threats, and 29% report receiving in-person threats from parents/caregivers.
  • 30% report receiving online threats, and 26% report receiving in-person threats from members of their local community.
  • Consequently, 20% report that these threats have made them much less likely to continue as principal.

Finding #4: Traditional work-related conditions continue to impact principals’ decisions to leave the role.

The top three factors most likely to cause principals to leave in the next three years are heavy workload (37%), state accountability measures (31%) and the amount of time and effort needed for compliance requirements (30%).

  • 18% of principals report that the most challenging aspect of the role is implementing district and state policies, while 15% report the main challenge is working with district leaders and administration.
  • Only one out of four (25%) “strongly agree” that the support they receive from the central office meets their needs.
  • Similarly, only 23% “strongly agree” that they receive adequate support from the school district to advance student learning.
  • 77% would like to have more opportunities to connect with principals facing the same issues and challenges.

While compensation is a concern, it is not the most critical factor.

  • While 52% of principals “somewhat agree,” only 19% “strongly agree” that their salary and benefits fairly compensate them for their efforts.
  • 17% “strongly agree” that if they could land a higher-paying job, they would leave education as soon as possible.

Principals continue to manage their schools with limited resources and minimal input on how they are used.

  • Only 29% of principals “strongly agree” that they have adequate resources (including teaching materials and other supplies) to support students in their building.
  • Just 27% “strongly agree” that their district appropriately consulted them about how to use COVID-relief financial aid for their school.

The survey was written and administered by Gotham Research Group, an independent research firm. It was conducted online from October 25 through November 12, 2021, among a nationally representative sample of 502 preK-12 school leaders in traditional, charter and private schools who have been principals for at least the past two years. The margin of error is ±4.4 percentage points.