The Pre-K-8 School Leader in 2018: A 10-Year Study

Social-emotional learning emerges as a top issue of concern for elementary principals.

A Study of the Principalship

Since the 1928 publication of its first 10-year study, The K-8 Principal, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) has been collecting data on the climate, challenges, and conditions that mark the principalship. The Pre-K-8 School Leader in 2018: A 10-Year Study is the ninth in this series of research studies, and it imparts new information about the current education climate; the challenges veteran, early career, and assistant principals face; the students they serve; and the conditions under which they work.NAESP is proud to have partnered with the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) to develop this research.

Findings from The Pre-K-8 School Leader in 2018

A 10-Year Study provide insight into key factors and trends impacting public schools in general, as well as school leadership.

Social-Emotional Learning

The top-ranked concern for 2018 responding principals was addressing the increase of students with emotional problems. Among those issues identified were the management of student behavior, student mental health issues, absenteeism, lack of effective adult supervision at home, and student poverty. In contrast, none of the student-related issues were identified as a major concern in 2008.

Working Conditions

The average number of reported hours per workweek has increased steadily over the past 90 years—from 44 hours in 1928, to 56 hours in 2008, to 61 hours in 2018. Additionally, the average number of school-related work hours per week outside of the school building was almost 8 hours for 2018 respondents—an increase of 1 hour over the past decade.

Employment Contracts

Between 2008 and 2018, the longevity of contracts decreased such that the majority of the contract terms shifted from 2 or more years in length in 2008 to 1 year in length in 2018. The months designated in principal contracts have steadily increased over time such that 50% of respondents in 2018 reported having a 12-month contract, compared to only 12% of respondents in 1958.


On average, principals surveyed were 50 years old, female, and White. The median school enrollment increased from 450 in 2008 to 505 in 2018. Further, 62% of principals indicated that the number of assistant principals assigned to their building was not enough to ensure effective school leadership that meets the needs of all students.

Preparation and Support

Whereas more than half of respondents indicated they had participated in online development programs, respondents also indicated that practical experience as an administrator and as a teacher was the most valuable influence on their success. Principals identified improving student performance as the key area of need for professional development.


Over the last three decades, respondents have noted having substantially less influence over district decisions concerning elementary schools and elementary education.