The Impact of Principal Attrition and Replacement on Indicators of School Quality

Authors: Marcus A. Winters, Brian Kisida, & Ikhee Cho  

Project Summary

This study explores whether principal transitions are inherently disruptive or if the impact of changing principals depends on the context surrounding the outgoing or incoming principal—namely, whether the new principal was hired externally or promoted from within a school.

Key Findings

We find that transitions to both internal and external hires negatively impact student performance. Externally hired principals also lead to an increase in teacher turnover and a decline in perceptions of the school’s learning environment, whereas transitions to an internally promoted principal have no such effects.

Implications and Recommendations

Winters, Kisida, Cho’s results demonstrate that principal transitions are disruptive to student learning and that reducing principal mobility in general is a valuable policy goal. Further, the pattern of our results suggests a need for further research to more completely understand the nature of principal impacts on school quality and the connection to student outcomes.


a student walks with his principal down a school hallway

Project Resources

Policy Brief

Brief Author Presentation