President Trump speaks to reporters at the White House before leaving on a trip to Dallas on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Student anxiety and hostility on public high school campuses has worsened since Donald Trump became president and is affecting student learning, according to a new UCLA report.

More than half of public high school teachers in a nationally representative school sample reported seeing more students than ever with “high levels of stress and anxiety” between last January, when Trump took office, and May. That’s according to the study, “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools,” by John Rogers, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“I’ve never been in a school year where I’ve had so many kids, kind of on edge,” the report quoted a Utah social studies teacher as saying. The names of the teachers in the report were pseudonyms.

And nearly 80 percent said some students had expressed concern for their well-being because of the charged public conversation about issues such as immigration, health care, the environment, travel bans and LGBTQ rights, it said. Furthermore, 40 percent said concerns over key issues — such as Trump’s ban on travelers from eight countries, most with Muslim majorities; restrictions on LGBTQ rights; and health care — are making it harder for students to focus on their studies and making them less likely to come to school.

“I had students stand up in the middle of class and directly address their peers with racial slurs,” the report quoted an Ohio social studies teacher as saying. “This is not something I have seen before.”

The report is being released at a time when even Republicans are calling out the president for his divisive rhetoric, including Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who announced Tuesday he would not seek reelection and decried what he called “the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.”

The report was looking to answer the following questions:

1) Have national political debates on topics such as immigration enforcement increased students’ stress and heightened students’ concerns about their well-being or the well-being of their families?
2) Have combative political dynamics at the national level contributed to incivility between students in schools and classrooms?
3) In what ways is student learning affected by heightened stress or incivility?
4) Do the impacts of the national political environment on student experiences differ depending on the demographics of the high schools they attend?

Here are key findings from the report (and you can find details below):

• Stress and concerns with welfare have increased, particularly in schools enrolling mostly students of color.

• Polarization, incivility and reliance on unsubstantiated sources have risen, particularly in predominantly white schools.

• A growing number of schools, particularly predominantly white schools, have become hostile environments for racial and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.

• While some school leaders avoided issues related to the political environment, others moved proactively to create a tolerant and respectful school culture. When leaders did not act, student behavior grew dramatically worse.

• As the national political environment has become more threatening, bellicose and uncivil, more young people are subject to adverse socio-emotional and academic consequences. These changes also undercut the democratic purposes of public education.

• Educators can mitigate some of these challenges, but they need more support. Ultimately, political leaders need to address the underlying causes of campus incivility and stress.

The policy issue that concerned students the most was the Trump administration’s statements about immigration, including the deportation of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and are known as “dreamers.” A social studies teacher and coach in Nebraska reported that some of his student athletes now live in “survival mode,” never knowing if they will be deported to a country they never lived in.


(From the UCLA report)

(From the UCLA report)

In May 2017, the team surveyed teachers from public high schools across the United States that were demographically and geographically representative.  More than 10,000 emails were sent to social studies, English and math teachers, inviting them to participate in the online survey about what they witnessed regarding student behavior and school climate from January to May 2017. A total of 1,535 teachers responded to the survey.  Teachers were offered a $10 Amazon gift card as an incentive, and a $250 gift card to spend on their classroom for the 250th, 500th and 1,000th teachers.  Of those who responded, 848 teachers wrote statements that went beyond the answers to the multiple-choice questions, ranging in length from one sentence to a few paragraphs. In July and August, 35 follow-up interviews were conducted with teachers of English and social studies.

Here are some key findings taken from the study:

I. Stress and concerns with welfare have increased, particularly in schools enrolling few white students.

II. Polarization, incivility and reliance on unsubstantiated sources have risen, particularly in predominantly white schools.

III. A growing number of schools, particularly predominantly white schools, became hostile environments for racial and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.

IV. While some school leaders avoided issues related to the political environment, others moved proactively to create a tolerant and respectful school culture. When leaders did not act, student behavior grew dramatically worse.

V. As the national political environment has become more threatening, bellicose and uncivil, more young people are subject to adverse socio-emotional and academic consequences. These changes also undercut the democratic purposes of public education.

VI. Educators can mitigate some of these challenges, but they need more support. Ultimately, political leaders need to address the underlying causes of campus incivility and stress.

(Correction: An earlier version quoted teachers from the report by name. The names were pseudonyms and have been removed. The identification of state and subject are accurate.)

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