An Exploration of Districts' Principal Hiring Practices

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Reynolds, Amy, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Young, Michelle, Leadership, Foundations and Policy, University of Virginia
Eddy Spicer, David, Leadership, Foundations and Policy, University of Virginia

Principal hiring is among the most consequential functions of school districts given the critical role of the principal for student and school outcomes. Districts have the potential to improve principal pipelines and to counteract some of the harmful effects of inequitable principal sorting patterns through their principal hiring practices. Yet little is known about how most districts hire principals. This exploratory study used a survey-based research design to begin to fill this gap in the literature by providing a thorough description of how districts hire principals. A stratified random sampling strategy was used to collect data from a diverse and representative set of 240 regular K-12 public school districts in the United States serving fewer than 100,000 students and with at least one principal that was not concurrently the superintendent. These survey data were matched to a robust set of complementary district-level covariates that were used in a series of quantitative analyses. The findings reveal that district hiring practices share a common set of high-level features due to institutional pressures, but that most hiring practices reflect adaptation to local context. Concerning trends emerged with respect to the accumulated advantages experienced by wealthier districts, the persistence of “traditional” hiring practices, and the unique challenges faced by isolated rural districts in principal hiring. This study contributes to the field by beginning to fill the gap in the research on how districts hire principals and the district-level features associated with differences in hiring practices.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
principal hiring, school districts, human resources
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