The US Department on Education — a federal agency with no clear purpose or need — conducts something called the Civil Rights Data Collection survey every two years. They ask all 96,000 public schools around the country hundreds of questions about all aspects of their operations, ostensibly to better craft education policy. They’ve just published the results of the survey for the 2015-2016 school year and one of the questions in the survey involves shootings in schools.
In the 2015-2016 school year, (they asked) “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.
There’s one problem. That total is orders of magnitude more than any other similar survey of shooting incidents in US schools found in other surveys. Even the fabulists at Everytown for Gun Safety only claim 29 school shootings during the same period.
So the notorious gun industry shills at NPR set out to confirm the CRDC’s result.
…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. About a quarter of schools didn’t respond to our inquiries.
Take, for instance, one California district that, according to the CRDC, was a virtual shooting gallery in 2015-2016.
Most of the school leaders NPR reached had little idea of how shootings got recorded for their schools.
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.
Did someone in the Department of Education have a political agenda and intentionally inflate the results of the survey? We’re dealing with government bureaucrats here on both ends of the survey, which means Hanlon’s razor is always at play: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Case in point: the results for Cleveland.
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.
And as always, garbage in, garbage out.
Similarly, the CRDC lists four shootings among the 16 schools of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California. Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the district, says that “going back 20-plus years,” no one can remember any incident involving a firearm. Their best guess, she says, is that there was some kind of mistake in coding, where an incident involving something like a pair of scissors (California Education Code 48915[c]), for example, got inflated into one involving a firearm (48915[c]).
The CRDC shows seven shootings in DeKalb County, Ga. Police reports provided to us by that district give a sense of more of the many, many ways the data collection may have gone wrong.
At Redan Middle School, there is a report of a toy cap gun fired on a school bus — not a shooting.
The CRDC shows a shooting at Stone Mountain Middle School, but a police report shows an incident at Stone Mountain High School instead.
The NPR report also points out a number of ways the wording of the survey itself is confusing and inconsistencies in how various states and districts account for incidents. They also point out that 240 out of 96,000 is well within the margin of error.
A number of districts have tried to correct the data they reported, but the DoE says they won’t be republishing the results.
Give credit to NPR for going to the time and expense to troubleshoot this obviously broken process and the wildly over-inflated “statistic” that it produced. In the mean time, if you see someone on the anti-gun side spout that ludicrous 240 school shootings in one year number, you’ll know where it came from. And who to thank for it.