The embarrassing blunder involves Department of Education (DOE) figures stating that schools around the U.S. reported an alarming 235 shootings in one year. National Public Radio (NPR) launched an investigation and actually contacted every one of the schools included in the DOE data, which was gathered by its Office for Civil Rights. The figures focus on the 2015-2016 school year and reveal that “nearly 240 schools…reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.”
Three months later, after every school was contacted by NPR, the stats changed drastically. More than two-thirds of the reported gun incidents never happened, according to the news outlet. “We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports,” the article states. “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.” A program director at the nonprofit research organization that assisted NPR in analyzing the bogus government data is quoted in the piece saying: “When we’re talking about such an important and rare event, [this] amount of data error could be very meaningful.”
Even though the DOE is the agency responsible for disseminating the erroneous information, in typical government fashion, it shrugged it off as no big deal. When asked for comment by reporters, the agency said it relies on school districts to provide accurate information. Evidently, the federal agency doesn’t bother checking data before publishing it as fact. In the meantime, the DOE has no plans to correct the errors. The article points out that the confusion comes at a time when the need for clear data on school violence has never been more pressing.
Dozens of school safety measures have been enacted nationwide on the heels of high-profile school shootings in Texas and Florida and public districts are allocating large sums to boost campus security. “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,” the NPR piece reads.
This is hardly an isolated incident of government inefficiency, but the seriousness of the matter should inspire the feds to provide the public—and policy makers—with accurate information. Instead, the DOE, a typical bloated agency with a $59 billion budget, passed the buck to the so-called civil rights data collection division which apparently plays fast and loose with facts. In the report with the skewed stats, schools were asked: “Has there been at least one incident at your school that involved a shooting (regardless of whether anyone was hurt)?”
The DOE should have known better than to blindly publish the information. All it had to do was check out the easily available figures provided by a reputable group that maintains a reliable gun safety database. For the same school year that the DOE listed 235 shootings, the group had only 29. “There is little overlap between this list and the government’s, with only seven schools appearing on both,” the NPR story says.