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Roughly One in Ten Public School Principals Left Profession in 2021-22 School Year

July 31, 2023

More experienced principals leave the profession at higher rates.

WASHINGTON (July 31, 2023)—Roughly 1 in 10 (11 percent) public school principals left the profession between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, according to data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical center within the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

“Principal attrition is higher in public schools than it was 5 years ago, and veteran public school leaders with more years of experience leave the profession at higher rates than those with less experience,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “Principals are critical supports for a school’s teachers and learners, and the country needs leaders in every school who are committed to the success of each student. These data are a valuable snapshot for those at the district and state levels who must address the issue of principal turnover in their schools.”

Approximately 80 percent of 2020-21 public school principals remained at the same school one year later (“stayers”), which was lower than the percentage of 2016-17 public school principals who were still at their school 1 year later (82 percent). Six percent of 2020-21 public school principals moved to a different school (“movers”), and 11 percent left the principalship (“leavers”). For private school principals in 2020-21, approximately 83 percent remained at the same school during the following school year, 2 percent moved to a different school, and 10 percent left the principalship.

Additionally, among 2020-21 public school principals who somewhat or strongly agreed they would leave the principalship as soon as possible if they could get a higher paying job (about 25 percent), approximately 73 percent stayed the following school year, while about 15 percent left the profession.

“These data are critical to understanding patterns of principal attrition,” said NCES Associate Commissioner Chris Chapman. “We are able to observe how principal attrition has changed over the years, as well as how principal attrition and mobility vary based on characteristics of the principals and their schools.”

The report released today includes selected findings from the Principal Follow-up Survey (PFS), a longitudinal component of the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), which is a nationally representative survey of public and private K-12 schools, principals, and teachers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data were collected from January 2022 through June 2022. The sample included about 6,500 public school principals and about 1,800 private school principals, for a total sample size of about 8,300 principals.

The data were collected as a follow-up to the 2020-21 NTPS to provide attrition and mobility information about principals in K-12 public and private schools. The purpose was to ascertain how many principals from the 2020-21 school year still worked as a principal in the same school 1 year later (“stayer”), how many had moved to become a principal in another school (“mover”), and how many were no longer working as a principal (“leaver”).

Key Findings

  • Of all public school principals in 2020-21, 11 percent left the profession by the 2021-22 school year. This was higher than in 2016-17, when 10 percent of all public school principals had left the profession since 2015-16, but not measurably different from the 2012-13 school year, when 12 percent of all public school principals had left the profession since the previous school year, or from 2008-09, when 12 percent of all public schools had left the profession since the previous school year.
  • Of all public school principals in 2020-21 with more than 10 years of experience as a principal at any school, 15 percent left the profession by the 2021-22 school year. Of those principals with 10 years or more experience as a principal in their current school, 16 percent left the profession.
  • A higher percentage of school principals 55 years of age or older left the profession compared to principals between 45-54 years of age.
    • Of those public school principals who were 55 years of age or older, 20 percent left the profession, compared to 9 percent of those 45-54 years of age. In addition, the percentage for those who were 55 years of age or older was higher than the 8 percent of those younger than 45 who left the profession.
    • Of those private school principals who were 55 years of age or older, 13 percent left the profession, compared to 6 percent of those 45-54 years of age.
  • Among the 9 percent of 2020-21 public school principals with a salary of less than $75,000, 76 percent remained at the same school during the 2021–22 school year, 7 percent moved to a different school, and 13 percent left the principalship.
  • Among the 33 percent of 2020-21 public school principals with a salary of $115,000 or more, 81 percent remained at the same school during the 2021-22 school year, 6 percent moved to a different school, and 10 percent left the principalship.
  • Among the 62 percent of 2020-21 private school principals with a salary of less than $75,000, 81 percent remained at the same school during the 2021-22 school year, 3 percent moved to a different school, and 10 percent left the principalship.
  • Among the 13 percent of 2020-21 private school principals with a salary of $115,000 or more, 85 percent remained at the same school during the 2021-22 school year, 3 percent moved to a different school, and 8 percent left the principalship.

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The National Center for Education Statistics, a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition and progress of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

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The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent and nonpartisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Its mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.

CONTACT:
Josh Delarosa, National Center for Education Statistics, ARIS.NCES@ed.gov
James Elias, Hager Sharp, jelias@hagersharp.com