How many times per year does a gun go off in an American school? The reports from the U.S. Department of Education are apparently way off.
This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” The number is far higher than most other estimates.
NPR researched these findings by reaching out to the schools and districts with the help of Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization. They found that more than two-thirds of these incidents never happened.
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.
Department of Ed officials indicate that they rely on school districts to provide accurate data. This confusion is not helpful as real data about school violence as new school years begin.
Our reporting highlights just how difficult it can be to track school-related shootings and how researchers, educators and policymakers are hindered by a lack of data on gun violence.
Comparisons of these reports call into question how difficult data collection may…or may not be.
For comparison, the Everytown for Gun Safety database, citing media reports, listed just 29 shootings at K-12 schools between mid-August 2015 and June 2016. There is little overlap between this list and the government’s, with only seven schools appearing on both.
A separate investigation by the ACLU of Southern California also was able to confirm fewer than a dozen of the incidents in the government’s report, while 59 percent were confirmed errors.
It is possible that some of these incidents were listed as “school shootings” whereas they were incidences in which a firearm, explosive, or toy cap gun went off.
There’s also potential for confusion within the CRDC itself. While this particular item refers clearly to “a shooting,” the previous item asks about a long list of incidents, some involving “a firearm or explosive device” and others involving “a weapon.”