A Matter of Definition: Is There Truly a Shortage of School Principals?

January 2003

Although some districts and areas are experiencing difficulties finding good school principals, there are far more candidates interested in assuming school leadership roles than there are principal vacancies to fill. This is true even in regions of high enrollment growth.

Based on a written, in-depth survey of human resource directors supplemented by formal survey questions to school superintendents and more than 150 telephone interviews with district staff, school organizations and state officials, this study concludes that, despite widespread publicity about a universal shortage of principals, shortages are not the norm. Where there have been reductions in the number of qualified candidates, these conditions are district and even school-specific and are more pronounced at the secondary than the elementary level. In addition, perceptions of the shortage are driven by demands for a new and different kind of school principal. In many ways, the purported shortage is a matter of definition.

As this report makes clear the nature of the shortage of school principals in the United States is very much a matter of definition. Responses to the challenge must meet the shortage as it is accurately defined.

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