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April 2, 2003

Principals abound but avoid certain schools and districts, study finds

Getting quality principals into troubled schools has become an educational rallying cry so intense that New York City is making headlines with its efforts to place leaders in failing schools.

A new study agrees that distribution of principals is a real problem, but also clarifies that nationwide there is no shortage in the supply of principals.

The study arose from the widely accepted notion that public education was suffering from a national shortage in principal
candidates.

Researchers at the University of Washington found an adequate supply of principals nationwide – an average of 17 candidates per vacancy.

“The real problem is that candidates simply avoid certain schools and districts, particularly those that offer low salaries and have high-minority and high-poverty
student populations,” said study author Marguerite Roza.

Roza, of the university’s Center for Reinventing Public Education, surveyed 83 school districts in 10 regions that were thought to be struggling to fill principal vacancies. Although New York City Schools were not included in the study, the study’s analysis agreed that there was a need to draw quality principals to struggling schools.

The study recommends that policymakers create financial incentives to attract principals to less desirable districts and schools, align salary schedules with the challenge of the job, and consider the hire of nontraditional candidates. This approach, the study finds, is more effective than misguided attempts at increasing the overall supply of principals, such as expanding training programs.

The study also finds that “district superintendents are generally not happy with recent hires” said Roza, a senior fellow at the University of Washington. The study
points to problems in the principal hiring process.

“Superintendents say that they want principals with strong leadership qualities,” Roza said, “while human resource directors are screening candidates based largely on years of teaching experience.”

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For more information, contact Roza at (206) 685-2214 or margroza@aol.com. The report is at http://www.crpe.org/.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education, at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, studies major issues in education reform and governance in order to improve policy and decision-making in K-12 education.