“Rough as hell.”
A high school principal in Nevada explained that conflicts with parents and community members were all too common for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Something needs to change, or people will quit,” said another California principal.
These voices are part of a new nationally representative survey of 682 public high school principals, many of whom are not only tall, but, in the words of one Utah principal: It describes the level of tension and division within the broader school community. She works harder than at any other time in her 20 years of administrative experience.
John Rogers, a professor of education at UCLA, led the research effort, and while a previous survey of principals in 2018 found conflict pervades schools, “In 2022, the difference will be: There is a lot of political conflict going on. targeted in public schools”, especially in the narrowly divided “purple” districts.
More than two-thirds (69%) of surveyed principals reported experiencing “substantial political confrontation” with a parent or community member over some controversial topic in the last year .
- Teach about issues of race and racism
- Policies and Practices Related to LGBTQ+ Student Rights
- social-emotional learning
- Student access to school library books
The study was conducted in the summer of 2022 by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA and the Civic Engagement Research Group at UC Riverside.
The resulting reports are rich in details and intuitive citations that school leaders provided to researchers in exchange for anonymity. did. Below are some of the biggest takeaways from the survey.
Schools in purple districts saw more political conflict
Nearly half (45%) of the principals surveyed said the level of parent-community conflict they saw last year was “more” or “much more” than anything they saw before the pandemic .
Only 3% felt less contentious last year.
The principals are the spread of misinformation on social media, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the divisive presidency of former President Trump and, most importantly, inspiring parents and turning schools into culture war battlefields. The role of largely conservative national organizations in
In fact, the more politically divided a community is, the more likely principals are to say their school is torn apart by conflict.
Researchers found that schools in purple congressional districts (where Trump won between 45% and 54.9% of the vote in 2020) outperformed schools in blue districts (where Trump voted below 45%). , found that they were likely to experience “severe” levels of political conflict. Or the red districts (where Trump’s approval rating exceeded 55%).
And these political conflicts can occur even among students.
Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) principals reported that a student made an insulting or hateful remark to a classmate who expressed a liberal or conservative opinion.
“I had to come down and help my teacher like a seasoned teacher.
As one Iowa principal recalls: “Children were trapped in their own trenches and wouldn’t even listen to the other side.”
Misinformation makes it difficult to teach many things, including media literacy
In many places, misinformation sparked conflict, according to research.
One Nevada principal said, “Parent groups have angered us with masking and encouraged children to get injections that are guaranteed to be microchipped because the government wants to control their children’s brains. I believed you were.
This same principal, who says he is a registered Republican in a predominantly conservative district, says that parental beliefs in misinformation have a chilling effect on the school’s ability to talk about current events and even recent history. I am worried about what you are bringing.
“you can’t [use newspapers] Already. I can’t use CNN because my parents get mad at me. I can’t use Fox because I can’t use it much. It’s hard to teach kids what’s going on in any context because the context doesn’t exist anymore. “
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of principals reported that parents and community members objected to information being used in the classroom. And the tug-of-war over this fact is that “from 2018 he nearly tripled in his community of purples between 2022,” the report states.
“The only way out of this situation is to teach children, and perhaps more people, what good information is.
Schools in purple districts were more likely to have restrictions on education about race and racism
The fiercely politicized battles over critical race theory are well documented. But the survey sheds new light on how prevalent these conflicts were in schools.
About half of principals said last year that parents and other members of the community tried to “limit or challenge teaching and learning about issues of race and racism,” according to the report. .
In purple districts, nearly two-thirds (63%) of principals noted such community pressure.
Not only that, but many district leaders gave in.
Nearly a quarter (23%) of purple community principals said district leaders, including members of the school board, “have taken action to limit teaching and learning about race and racism. ” he told the researchers. This was higher than both the red community (17%) and the blue community (8%).
“The superintendent never told me in no uncertain terms that the issue of race and prejudice could not be addressed…” remembers one Minnesota principal. “He told me, ‘Here’s not the time or place to do this. You have to remember that you’re in the heart of Trump’s country, and if you start talking about it, it’s just going to start a big mess. ‘ “
Another Ohio principal said that when a group of irate parents found no evidence of CRT in the school’s social studies curriculum, they accused him of “secretly teaching CRT.” increase.
“We are weathering this storm and trying to see if we can get through it,” said the Ohio principal. , am I going to be accused by white people of saying they were bad? “
Harassment of LGBTQ+ students on the rise
Nearly half (48%) of principals said they faced external efforts from parents and the wider community to “challenge or limit the rights of LGBTQ+ students.” They say they have faced such efforts many times.
“One counselor explained to me that a parent yelled at her on the phone,” a California principal said, using an anti-gay slur. , it is very disappointing to work so hard and take care of all the students when they are intimidating.”
The findings also reveal a mirror effect, with efforts by adults to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ students paralleling an increase in the percentage of students themselves who harass their LGBTQ+ classmates. .
“The percentage of principals pointing out multiple attacks against LGBTQ+ students increased across all schools,” the report said, “increasing from 15% in 2018 to 24% in 2022.”
But in purple communities, that number has more than tripled.
Principal believes majority of parents do not support these conflicts
Despite the pressure and its toll, many principals said the majority of parents did not support the conflicts that have so divided their schools, and many of these conflicts, like North Carolina, ” The school principal said he believes it is caused by “small groups of haters.”
The principal said the taciturn majority remained silent last year because they were “too busy, overwhelmed or afraid they would face danger if they got engaged.” UCLA’s Rogers said:
Rogers’ collaborator Joseph Kane, professor of education at the University of California, Riverside, warns that silence is not healthy for a school system meant to serve all children.
“When the majority of people are silent, people who have very strong opinions or who are willing to engage in highly controversial politics will have tremendous influence.” Kahne cautions, “If all parents and community members can speak up and have logical and focused conversations, that dialogue will be good for the school.”
And Kahne and Rogers argue that it’s good for democracy.