It’s not just veterans with mental health issues who have trouble dealing with the stress of administering schools. The latest Rand Corporation American School District Panel Survey finds 79% of school superintendents say their jobs are “often” or “always” stressful. The most frequently cited cause of that school stress is politics:
Here’s a look at how many superintendents cited the top 10 causes of stress:
- The intrusion of political issues and opinions into schooling: 88%
- Educators’ mental health: 74%
- Students’ mental health: 71%
- Staffing shortages: 65%
- District budget: 65%
- State accountability requirements: 52%
- Educator attrition: 44%
- School board relations/school board pressure: 32%
- Community physical safety concerns: 22
- Feeling like the goals and expectations of the district are unattainable: 21%
Politics is hardly a new source of stress for K12 leaders. Political divisions in the community were described as a pressing challenge by 27% of superintendents surveyed by AASA in 2020. A RAND poll conducted in the spring of 2022 found that furor over issues such as COVID safety and critical race theory were top sources of superintendent stress.
Political polarization is causing more disruptions in historically advantaged suburban, low-poverty and mostly white school systems, where leaders are dealing with more book challenges, Freedom of Information Act requests and threats against educators, RAND notes [Matt Zalaznick, “Superintendents Are Stressed Out. Here Is the No. 1 Reason,” District Administration, 2023.07.12].
More politics and more stress means more turnover and more difficulty for local school boards to find qualified leaders for their schools. Perhaps the Governor could help relieve this stress by keeping her nose and Hillsdale College out of the development of future curriculum standards.