Researchers at UCLA and UC Riverside today released a nationally representative survey of 682 high school principals, making clear that political conflicts affecting schools are pervasive and growing, with more than two-thirds of principals surveyed reporting substantial political conflict over hot-button issues. Almost half (45%) of principals said the amount of community level conflict during the 2021-2022 school year was “more” or “much more,” than prior to the pandemic. Only 3% said it was less.

The report, “Educating for a Diverse Democracy: The Chilling Role of Political Conflict in Blue, Purple, and Red Communities, finds that political conflicts have had a chilling effect that has limited opportunities for students to engage in learning and respectful dialogue on controversial topics and made it harder to address rampant misinformation. The highly charged environment has also led to marked declines in support for teaching about race, racism, and racial and ethnic diversity. In addition, there has been sizable growth in harassment of LGBTQ youth. 

“Public schools increasingly are targets of conservative political groups focusing on what they term ‘critical race theory,’ as well as issues of sexuality and gender identity, and are impacted by political conflict reflecting growing partisan divides in our society,” said John Rogers, a professor of education at UCLA and the director of the UCLA Institute for Education, Democracy and Access. “These attacks are undermining the role public schools play in educating for our democracy.” 

Principals at schools in more evenly divided communities were far more likely than those in communities that have substantial partisan majorities to report acute levels of community conflict. The increasing political conflicts often result from intentional and organized efforts that have targeted these more evenly divided communities in particular.

Read the full news release on the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies website.