Aug 10, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Report: Divisive political topics fueled stress among nearly half of all principals

Principal Nathan Hay performs temperature checks on students as they arrive on the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year at Baldwin Park Elementary School.
Principal Nathan Hay performs temperature checks on students as they arrive on the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year at Baldwin Park Elementary School in Orlando, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nearly half of all principals said that political issues were job-related stressors last year, according to a RAND Corporation report out Wednesday.

Why it matters: Public education emerged as a political flashpoint during the pandemic, with intense debates over masking and teachings about race splitting parents and prompting increased threats against school employees.

By the numbers: 48% of principals said that the intrusion of political issues and opinions, including about COVID-19 safety measures and classroom conversations about race, was a job-related stressor, the RAND report conducted in January found.

  • 40% of teachers said the same, per RAND.
  • More than a third of teachers, 37%, and more than a half of principals, 61%, reported being harassed because of their school’s policies on COVID-19 safety measures or for teaching about race or racism during the first half of last school year.
  • The educators surveyed — which includes teachers and principals — collectively said that the implementation of COVID-19 safety measures was a greater stressor than responding to families' concerns about teaching about race or racism.

Between the lines: "However, this response pattern could be related to the timing of the surveys, which were administered in January 2022, when the surge of the omicron variant was at its peak," the authors of the report note.

The big picture: The survey also found that educators widely opposed legal limits on conversations about race and other forms of bias.

  • 54% of teachers and principals said that there should not be legal limits on classroom conversations about racism, sexism and other topics, while 21% of principals and 20% of teachers said there should be limits on such conversations.
  • At the time of the survey administration, at least 14 states had enacted limits on teaching about race, including passing "critical race theory" bills, or laws limiting discussions on gender identity.

What to watch: While COVID-19 safety measures are likely to be less of a focus next school year, debates over how teachers should discuss race and gender and how schools should respond to gun violence, among other politicized topics, are likely to still be at the forefront.

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