This is one of those stories that takes all of your normal instincts about politics and flips them on their head. It seems the Trump administration’s Department of Education released a report this spring on gun violence at K-12 schools. The report, which was based entirely on self-reporting by schools, claimed there had been 235 incidents where a gun was discharged at a school during the 2015-2016 school year.
The Civil Rights Data Collection for 2018 required every public school — more than 96,000 — to answer questions on a wide range of issues.
It asked what sounded like a simple question:
In the 2015-2016 school year, “Has there been at least one incident at your school that involved a shooting (regardless of whether anyone was hurt)?”
The answer — “nearly 240 schools (0.2 percent of all schools)” — was published this spring.
The government’s definition included any discharge of a weapon at school-sponsored events or on school buses. Even so, that would be a rate of shootings, and a level of violence, much higher than anyone else had ever found.
That number of shootings is much higher than even gun control groups like Everytown claim to be the case, so NPR decided to contact every school listed in the report to verify it’s accuracy. What it found was a complete bungle.
NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, assisted NPR in analyzing data from the government’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.
In 161 cases, schools or districts attested that no incident took place or couldn’t confirm one. In at least four cases, we found, something did happen, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting.
How could self-reported numbers be so far off? It turns out the question about the discharge of a gun is a new one that hadn’t been asked before and, in several cases, the people filling out the form got confused:
For example, the CRDC reports 26 shootings within the Ventura Unified School District in Southern California.
“I think someone pushed the wrong button,” said Jeff Davis, an assistant superintendent there. The outgoing superintendent, Joe Richards, “has been here for almost 30 years and he doesn’t remember any shooting,” Davis added…
The biggest discrepancy in sheer numbers was the 37 incidents listed in the CRDC for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Roseann Canfora, the district’s chief communications officer, told us that, in fact, 37 schools reported “possession of a knife or a firearm,” which is the previous question on the form.
The number 37, then, was apparently entered on the wrong line.
So with just two simple mistakes, you’ve created 63 school shootings that never happened. Here’s a graphic created by NPR to show how many of the reported incidents could actually be confirmed (the blue ones):
Obviously, eleven firearms incidents at K-12 schools is eleven too many, but that’s a dramatic difference from 235. And given that we’re talking about 96,000 schools nationwide, that works out to 0.01 percent.
So you have the Trump DOE (accidentally) inflating the number of school shootings and NPR setting the record straight. I wouldn’t have predicted either part of that happening.