Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks to President Trump during a Cabinet meeting on Aug. 16 at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Since 1968, the U.S. Department of Education has conducted what is known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, which is an attempt to look at how the nation’s public schools are addressing key education and civil rights issues. In the most recent public release of data, it turns out the department published incorrect information related to school shootings, but it is not planning to correct the report.

In a story titled, “The school shootings that weren’t,” NPR reported this:

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.

But 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.

The Education Department did not respond to a query from The Washington Post about the issue. It told NPR it relies on schools to provide correct information when filling out survey forms, and it used what it received.

Amir Whitaker, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California who is responsible for legislation focused on education equity and funding, said in an interview that department officials should have questioned the results because they were significantly higher than past reports.

“You are talking about a report of more than 200 shootings,” he said. “Wouldn’t you want to know where they happened? But there was no real interest at the department in looking at it.” ―———

The ACLU said in a report released Tuesday that only 11 shootings could be confirmed and that it is clear some schools made mistakes while filling out the federal survey.

Whitaker, who wrote the ACLU report, said two school districts, for example, mistakenly reported each of their schools as having a shooting — data that accounted for 63 of the reported shootings. The NPR story also documents a number of errors made by schools as well as complaints about the wording of the survey itself from schools to the department.

The ACLU report (see in full below) also says:

A careful examination of this data also calls into question how the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos is interpreting it. In a recent publication highlighting the data on “school climate and safety,” the administration reported on the number of school shootings without checking for errors, potentially inflating the number of school shootings by the hundreds. Instead of proceeding with care, the administration is now using the flawed data on school shootings to emphasize a need for more school discipline — which has turned schools into militarized places that deprive students of color of an equal education, as previously reported by earlier administrations.

Everytown Research, a nonprofit organization, reported fewer than 30 school shootings in K-12 settings during the 2015-16 school year, far fewer the nearly 240 reported by the Trump administration.

NPR reported that Elizabeth Hill, a department spokesman, said the original report on the civil rights data with the high number of shootings would not be changed, though updated data would be released separately.

Following is what the ACLU published on Tuesday (and it gave me permission to republish it).

It was written by Whitaker, the staff attorney. Before working for the ACLU, he represented students and incarcerated youths throughout Florida and Alabama for the Southern Poverty Law Center, negotiating settlements and policy changes and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. He has worked as a researcher with the UCLA Civil Rights Project and written for numerous publications. Whitaker taught in different educational settings for more than a decade. He has a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Southern California and a law degree from the University of Miami.

BY AMIR WHITAKER

Race, Discipline, and Safety at U.S. Public Schools

There are more than 96,000 public schools in America. The U.S. Department of Education recently released data that was collected from all of them. The data, based on the 2015-2016 school year, reveals the extent of police presence in schools, the lack of basic services, and the growing racial disparities in public school systems serving 50 million students. In many communities, all of these conditions are worsening.

The ACLU is partnering with the UCLA Civil Rights Project to publish a series of reports and data tools to enhance the public’s understanding of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Some data are being reported publicly for the first time, including the number of days lost to suspension; the number of police officers in stationed in schools; and the number of school shootings reported nationwide.

A careful examination of this data also calls into question how the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos is interpreting it. In a recent publication highlighting the data on “school climate and safety,” the administration reported on the number of school shootings without checking for errors, potentially inflating the number of school shootings by the hundreds. Instead of proceeding with care, the administration is now using the flawed data on school shootings to emphasize a need for more school discipline — which has turned schools into militarized places that deprive students of color of an equal education, as previously reported by earlier administrations.

Here are four big takeaways revealed in our series of reports.

For the first time in history, public schools in America serve mostly children of color


(ACLU/ACLU)

The new data shows that students of color make up the majority of public school students. When federal data was first collected in 1968, over 80 percent of public school students were white. Because of changing demographics, white students now constitute just 49 percent of American schoolchildren. As the federal government considers further cuts to education funding, it should recognize that the harm will now fall in greater measure on communities of color, which have historically been underserved by school systems.

Students missed over 11 million days of school in 2015-16 because of suspensions

We’ve known for years that students of color have long been experiencing excessive and unequal rates of suspension. Thanks to the new CRDC reporting requirements, we now know for the first time exactly how much education has been denied these students. The 11 million days of lost instruction from suspensions as disciplinary actions from 2015-2016 translates to more than 60,000 school years, more than 60 million hours of lost education and billions of dollars wasted. And this is all in a single school year.

The amount of lost educational opportunities is particularly severe for students of color. Dramatic disparities exist at the school, district, state, and national levels. California for example enrolls four times as many white students than Black students. Yet the total number of instruction days lost by Black students due to suspension was nearly the same as the number of days lost by whites (141,000 for Blacks compared with 151,000 for whites). The map below provides a county-based analysis which shows local disparities.

Millions of students are in schools with cops but no counselor, social worker, or nurse

Our report reveals that tens of thousands of schools are not equipped to meet the social, emotional, or behavioral needs of students. The federal data indicates that many of these schools prioritize law enforcement rather than mental health and social services.

Here are some key findings:

  • Nationally, schools reported more than 27,000 sworn law enforcement officers compared with just 23,000 social workers.
  • More than 36 million students were enrolled in 55,000 schools that did not meet the American School Counselors Association’s recommended 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio.
  • Nationally, there was a student-to-counselor ratio of 444:1, suggesting that counselors are seriously overworked with a student caseload that is 78 percent greater than what is recommended by professionals.

The map below reveals that students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the practice of exclusionary discipline. Nationally, students with disabilities lost instruction due to suspensions at more than twice the rate of their non-disabled peers. The states with the highest rate for days lost for students with disabilities were Hawaii (95), Tennessee (85), North Carolina (85), Virginia (78), and Delaware (78).

Over 96 percent of the “serious offenses” reported in the new data do not involve weapons

The Trump administration put significant emphasis on the serious offenses reported by schools in its reporting of the civil rights data, but our report reveals that the vast majority of the incidents categorized as “serious” didn’t involve weapons of any kind.

Although there were over 1 million “serious offenses” involving students reported in the 2015-16 school year, over 96 percent of these related to fights, physical attacks, or threats without weapons. Only 3 percent of the million offenses actually involved a weapon, and less than 3% of all public schools reported an incident of physical attack or fight with a weapon.

Every public school in the country was also required to report occurrences of school shootings on campus, regardless of injury. Our research and follow up with the schools found this data to be mostly erroneous.

Over 230 schools reported school shootings. However, two school districts mistakenly reported each of their schools as having a shooting. The data from these two districts accounted for 63 of the reported shootings.

Everytown Research, a nonprofit organization, reports that less than 30 school shootings occurred in K-12 settings during the 2015-16 school year, a far cry from the nearly 240 reported by the Trump administration. We have been reaching out to schools individually. Over 138 of the schools contacted have confirmed the errors, while only 11 have confirmed school shootings.