Out With the Old, In With the New: When Are Principal Successions Successful?

When a school’s principal changes, what are the effects on teacher engagement and student achievement? What factors are associated with a successful transition?

Prior research suggests that student performance declines following a school leadership transition. But, to what extent do school outcomes vary as a result of a new principal, and why? One possibility is that poor achievement scores following a principal transition reflect a decline in test scores that started prior to the change in leadership. Another possibility is that characteristics of the incoming and outgoing leaders may affect the quality of the transition. Klein and colleagues will compare the environments at 200 schools in the largest districts in the country. Half of the schools will be experiencing a principal transition and half will not. Transition and non-transition schools will be matched. Once a year for the three years following the transition, the investigators will obtain standardized tests to measure student achievement. They will also interview principals and survey teachers to estimate school climate, faculty engagement, instructional priorities, administrative practices, and principal characteristics. The team plans to extend prior research by considering how school characteristics—including students’ prior test performance and the student body composition, attachment to the outgoing principal, and characteristics and priorities of the incoming leader—facilitate or impede a successful transition. Analyses will consider how school-level assessments of faculty engagement, climate, and administrative practices shift after a transition and how they relate to student performance.