An Interview with Ed Fuller and Michelle Young: Principals and Burn Out?

Dec 15, 2009 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1)   Guys, you have just completed a major study on principals in Texas. Basically what did you find?

Essentially, we found that principals are turning over at an alarming rate.  In 3 years almost 50% of new principals have left their positions.  In 5 years we see a turnover rate of about 70%

2)  What seems to be the biggest factor or variable in principal longevity?

Although this project doesn’t deal with this issue, in more recent analyses we have learned that spending time as an assistant principal is linked to longevity.  Research and doc institutions in Texas are more likely than other institutions to place their candidates in asst principal positions either during their graduate training as an internship placement or upon completion of the program.  2-5 years as an assistant principal is related to longevity, which is linked to positive impact.

3)     What seems to be the biggest problem leading to principals leaving education?

District support seems to be a major factor.  Part of support would be resources, autonomy over decision making, hiring, etc.

4)  Some principals leave the schools and go into “central office“. What have you found out about these individuals?

They tend to be white, male and have been successful in their positions as principals.

5)  I believe it was Martin Haberman who said to me “ Principals in urban school districts have impossible jobs”. What about in Texas?

This seems to be the case. The majority of high needs schools are located in urban areas.  Add to this the difficulty of taking on the leadership of schools that have been consistently falling behind, and you have a very difficult situation.

6)   Some principals in Texas have to deal with second language learners. How does this fit into the picture?

Schools with large numbers of language minority students have a difficult time retaining school leaders, the turnover is even more severe in schools where there are high poverty rates.

7)     What about the TAKS- does this have anything to do with early retirement or burn out?

The TAKS exam scores play a major part of the Texas accountability system and progress on Taks is an essential part of meeting AYP.  When schools don’t make AYP one of options that a district has is removing and replacing the school leader.  The turnover rates for superintendents and teachers in Texas are lower than that of school leaders. Principals appear to be somewhat disposable.

8) Is the study on line and if so, where can it be found?

It can be found on the ucea website

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