In this second phase of the NASSP and LPI research agenda, LPI collected in-depth insights through focus groups with experts—namely, current administrators—who grapple with the everyday, long-term demands and challenges that mark the principalship. The focus groups explored the following main reasons principals leave their jobs, as identified in an earlier review of the literature:
- Poor working conditions
- Insufficient salaries
- Lack of decision-making authority
- Ineffective accountability policies
Focus groups consisted of 17 participants with diverse backgrounds, representing 15 states and serving in schools with poverty levels ranging from 4 percent to 78 percent. Notably, we found that focus group participants faced challenges similar to those identified in the literature review.
How Can We Best Support School Leaders?
Based on feedback from these administrators, we identified several strategies that could give principals the supports they need to succeed and remain in their schools:
- High-quality professional learning opportunities: Principals praised preparation programs that offer robust field experiences with strong mentors and/or internships.
- Support from strong administrative teams with adequate school-level resources: A strong administrative team could help balance work and life responsibilities, and providing and equitably allocating funds could help ensure that schools are positive learning environments for all students and educators.
- Competitive salaries: Competitive salaries that are aligned with principals’ vast responsibilities and multiple roles could help attract and retain school leaders.
- Appropriate decision-making authority within the school context: Principals with greater decision-making authority could better implement policies and deploy resources based on their understanding of their schools’ needs.
- Evaluations characterized by timely, formative feedback: Evaluations could help principals set meaningful goals and improve their leadership with proper accountability.