What is it like to lead schools in ‘purple’ communities?
New report examines how politics is shaping conflicts at California schools
March 27, 2023
Students, teachers, staff and administrators are under attack in California’s “purple” communities and it’s making the hard work of education even more difficult, according to a report released in March.
“Educating for a Diverse Democracy in California” contains new analysis of research conducted by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA and by the Civic Engagement Research Group at UC Riverside. Lead authors John Rogers and Joseph Kahne examine how the social and political dynamics within schools are related to the partisan leanings of their communities.
“To create a thriving diverse democracy, youth need opportunities to explore the full stories and histories of varied groups, to build capacities for respectful evidence-based dialogue and to develop commitments to robust civil liberties and recognition of the dignity of fellow citizens,” the report says. “Currently, many California public high schools are experiencing attacks as a result of their efforts to pursue this vital goal.”
Using survey results and interviews with California principals, the authors paint a picture of education in politically contested “purple” communities, defined as those where the 2020 vote for Donald Trump was between 45 percent and 54.9 percent. In these communities, issues like sexuality, gender identity and race have become flashpoints for conflict, leading to intolerant behavior by parent and community activists.
For instance, principals in purple communities report being 2.5 times as likely as principals in blue communities to report community conflict related to LGBTQ issues. Principals in purple communities also say they have more frequent conflicts over school library books and teaching about race and racism.
Forty-two percent of principals feel that political conflict over these issues is more or much more intense than before the pandemic. They also report that this discord is taking a toll.
“These political conflicts have made the already hard work of public education more difficult, undermining school management, negatively impacting staff, and heightening student stress and anxiety,” the authors write. “Several principals shared that they were reconsidering their own roles in public education in light of the ‘rage at teachers and rage at administrators’ playing out in their communities.”
Conflicts are also causing stress and strained relationships among students. California principals report that intolerant behavior among students has increased since the pandemic. More than three-quarters (78 percent) of principals report that students have made hostile or demeaning remarks toward LGBTQ students. A large share of principals also report remarks having been directed at White (36 percent), Asian American/Pacific Islander (41 percent), Latinx (50 percent) and African American (66 percent) students.
One principal who was interviewed explained why some students may have limited viewpoints on significant political and social events from the last few years, such as the murder of George Floyd and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“All these things happened while kids were in spaces that were not with us,” said one principal in a “blue” community. “And so where they would have come to school and had some conversations about those things in a space where they knew there was a really diverse set of beliefs and experiences around them. … [But instead] they had them around their dinner table. Or not. They may have had them around a Discord server, or they heard Dad or Mom rant and rave about that one perspective that they have — their family’s perspective. ... So our kids came back to school with this very narrow perspective.”
“All these things happened while kids were in spaces that were not with us. ... So our kids came back to school with this very narrow perspective.”
— California principal, as quoted in the new report, “Educating for a Diverse Democracy in California”
The authors note, however, that this political conflict has not diminished educators’ efforts to educate for a diverse democracy in California the same way it has nationally. Nationwide, school and district leaders from purple communities report being 22 percent less likely than their peers in blue communities to speak out about the importance of LGBTQ student rights. In California, school leaders in blue and purple communities have equal likelihood of speaking out on this issue.
“One possible explanation for this divergence is that state policies supporting LGBTQ rights and Ethnic Studies in California send a signal to educators that practices associated with educating for a diverse democracy represent valued professional practice,” according to the authors. “It is also the case that California’s move toward an Ethnic Studies requirement for high school graduation creates a clear incentive for schools and districts to create conditions that will ensure student success.”
Read the full report at content.acsa.org/educating-for-a-diverse-democracy-in-california.
Additional Resources
Responding to Intolerance: Leadership for a Multiracial Democracy – Analysis on the effectiveness of four responses school leaders typically take when responding to conflict. Dealing with Angry Parents or Community Members – Considerations for site administrators from ACSA’s Member Assistance and Legal Support Team. FAQ: Critical Race Theory – ACSA has developed this one-page FAQ to help school administrators understand Critical Race Theory and explain it to stakeholders.
Contact Us
© 2023 Association of California School Administrators