A lack of principals: Crisis in Connecticut. A study of qualified candidates' perceptions of factors influencing the attractiveness of the public school principalship

Date of Completion

January 2002


Education, Administration




In response to what is being described as a national leadership crisis, a number of states—including Connecticut—are developing plans to address the shortage of qualified applicants for principal vacancies. These efforts are primarily directed toward improving recruitment, training, and the quality of principal candidates. However, preliminary studies indicate that much of the problem is not due to a shortage of qualified candidates, but rather to the candidates' lack of willingness to apply for the increasing number of vacancies. Much of the information available indicates that the primary deterrents keeping candidates from applying for principalships are related to job design and work context, yet many of the solutions being proposed in state and professional organization plans focus on increasing the availability of quality of candidates. Few interventions are directed at the job as it is currently designed and practiced. ^ Drawing from previous research on work design, motivation, and job choice theories, this qualitative study examines factors influencing potential principal applicants' career decisions. Using in-depth interview methodologies, the problem is examined from the perspective of those who are in the best position to immediately ameliorate the crisis—certified candidates who, despite their preparation and qualifications, have chosen not to pursue the principalship. ^ While this was an exploratory and descriptive study and thus has limited generalizability in the traditional sense, the results do raise significant questions that have implications for both policy and practice. Many of these evolve around the design of the principalship as it is currently structured and culturally understood. Specifically three areas stand out: job redesign and reculturation; changes in policy and practices related to identification and development of leadership throughout teacher education and administrator preparation programs; and redesign of processes related to recruitment, selection, hiring and support of school leaders. ^ It is hoped that the information and insights gleaned from this study will assist those charged with crafting “crisis” response plans to develop solutions that will not only attract more qualified candidates to the job, but which will also help to sustain and retain those who take on the responsibilities of the office. ^