4 ways to compare how school climate is recovering

Since the 2020-21 school year, some 5% of districts have disciplined educators for violating policies restricting classroom discussions about race, gender, or sexuality

Many leaders have been working to recalibrate school climate after the disruptions of the past several years, and new research is shedding some light on whether these efforts are succeeding.

In the latest nationwide numbers on staff shortages, for example, districts reported that 9% of their teachers retired or resigned during the 2022–2023 school year, the RAND Corporation’s latest American School District Panel found. That turnover rate was similar to the previous school year but still higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Districts continue to struggle the hardest to hire substitutes and special education teachers, the survey noted. Nearly eight in 10 districts reported considerable shortages of substitutes in fall 2021 compared to just more than half that cited the same difficulty in fall 2023. When it comes to math shortages of math teachers during that same period, the number of district leaders reporting hiring challenges dropped from 32% to 20%.

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The survey also tracked a decline in the pandemic-era spike in principal resignations. A whopping 16% of principals left their jobs in 2021-22 compared to 9% the following year. Before the COVID outbreak, that number hovered around 3%.

The nonprofit research organization also surveyed educators on five other components of school climate, including politicization, curriculum restrictions and funding.

Political polarization intrudes

Four in 10 districts reported that politicization had interfered with teachers’ ability to cover race and LGBTQ issues effectively:

(RAND Corporation)

This polarization is more pronounced in suburban and rural districts, where leaders were twice as likely to report political challenges.

Navigating sensitive discussions

Since the 2020-21 school year, some 5% of districts have disciplined educators for violating policies restricting classroom discussions about race, gender or sexuality. More than half of leaders, meanwhile, say their school boards and states have enacted curriculum restrictions on race, gender, sexuality and other topics.

“Unsurprisingly, districts located in conservative areas were almost twice as likely as their counterparts in liberal areas to indicate that their educators were subject to such a state or district policy,” the report notes.

Budgetary concerns loom

Despite the looming ESSER “fiscal cliff,” only about one-quarter of districts expect revenues to drop by at least 5% in the 2024–2025 school year. About half of the leaders said they anticipated 2023-34 funding to remain about the same in 2024-25 while, perhaps surprisingly, 15% expect revenues to increase. However, high-poverty districts and those serving mostly students of color were more likely to expect funding to drop.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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