Stepping Stones: Principal Career Paths and School Outcomes

45 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2011 Last revised: 12 Feb 2023

See all articles by Tara Beteille

Tara Beteille

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Demetra Kalogrides

Stanford University

Susanna Loeb

Stanford University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 2011


More than one out of every five principals leaves their school each year. In some cases, these career changes are driven by the choices of district leadership. In other cases, principals initiate the move, often demonstrating preferences to work in schools with higher achieving students from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Principals often use schools with many poor or low-achieving students as stepping stones to what they view as more desirable assignments. We use longitudinal data from one large urban school district to study the relationship between principal turnover and school outcomes. We find that principal turnover is, on average, detrimental to school performance. Frequent turnover of school leadership results in lower teacher retention and lower student achievement gains. Leadership changes are particularly harmful for high poverty schools, low-achieving schools, and schools with many inexperienced teachers. These schools not only suffer from high rates of principal turnover but are also unable to attract experienced successors. The negative effect of leadership changes can be mitigated when vacancies are filled by individuals with prior experience leading other schools. However, the majority of new principals in high poverty and low-performing schools lack prior leadership experience and leave when more attractive positions become available in other schools.

Suggested Citation

Beteille, Tara and Kalogrides, Demetra and Loeb, Susanna, Stepping Stones: Principal Career Paths and School Outcomes (July 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17243, Available at SSRN:

Tara Beteille (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Demetra Kalogrides

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Susanna Loeb

Stanford University ( email )

School of Education 402P CERAS, 520 Galvez Mall
Stanford, CA 94305
United States
650-725-4262 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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