December 2018
  • Lessons From Our Year Tracking School Shootings: Students More Likely to Be Hit by Lightning Than Shot in Class, Yet Fear of Mass Violence Is Driving Policy

    By Mark Keierleber | December 18, 2018

    In a Baltimore conference room filled with school-based police officers intent on stopping the next school shooting, psychologist Peter Langman offered a perspective that in 2018 seemed underappreciated, if not profound.

    “When you get out of your car and walk into the school building, you’ve just gone from the most dangerous place you’ll be all day to the safest place,” Langman, an expert on the psychology of school shooters, said during a recent National Association of School Resource Officers conference.

    This year, however, it was the threat of school shootings, not their statistical rarity, that rose to the top of Americans’ minds. People, Langman said, are far more likely to die in a traffic accident than a school shooting. According to an analysis of such incidents by The 74, at least 50 people were killed and 88 injured in firearm incidents at K-12 schools and colleges in 2018.

    Just a few weeks into 2018, the conversation about gun violence in America’s schools poignantly re-emerged when a gunman walked into a rural Kentucky high school and opened fire, killing two people and injuring 18 others. Still, the worst was yet to come. Just weeks later, a gunman killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Florida — one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. Then in May, 10 people were shot dead at a school in Santa Fe, Texas.

    The response was unprecedented. Thousands of students across the country marched out of their classrooms to demand action from lawmakers. Student survivors from Parkland became household names in their advocacy for stricter firearm rules.

    “Part of us died that day,” Ilan Alhadeff, the father of one Parkland shooting victim, said after the tragedy. “My daughter was shot that day in the heart, the spine, in the femur and artery. If she lived, she would have been paralyzed for life. No parent should have to deal with this again. No family.”

    Lawmakers passed a bevy of new laws mandating a range of responses — from hiring more school-based police to “red flag” laws that temporarily strip firearms from people who present a danger to themselves or others.

    School districts across the country opened their wallets, spending education resources on surveillance cameras and other tech-driven security. In a draft report, a state panel investigating the Parkland shooting found several ways in which school and police officials failed to avert the tragedy. Sheriff’s deputies didn’t rush into the school to stop the gunman, according to the report, and school staff left doors unlocked and did not call a “code red” alarm quickly enough.

    School safety even worked its way into the 2018 midterm elections and may have affected the outcome of several races.


    Inside the $3 Billion School Security Industry: Companies Market Sophisticated Technology to ‘Harden’ Campuses, but Will It Make Us Safe?

    Throughout 2018, The 74 tracked firearm incidents on K-12 school and college campuses that resulted in injury or death. More than half of the injuries and deaths can be attributed to just three incidents: The shootings in Marshall County, Kentucky; Parkland; and Santa Fe. The shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe were the only ones to result in more than two fatalities.

    While heated debate persists over the precise definition of a “school shooting,” we found the firearm incidents varied significantly. For example, five students and one school resource officer died as the result of suicide. Other incidents occurred during afterschool sports events: One person was killed and six were injured in shootings that unfolded during three separate football games, and another was injured during a track meet.

    Seven of the incidents unfolded in school parking lots. Several were reportedly accidental, while others stemmed from fights that escalated. Though a majority of incidents took place at high schools, some involved younger children. Current or former students were identified as perpetrators in about half of the incidents.

    This map includes school shootings that took place on campus where a person was injured or killed. Incidents resulting in injury are labeled blue, while incidents resulting in death are labeled red. The most recent incident is indicated with a larger icon. Click on the icons to see details about each incident.

    Taken as a whole, the data underscores a disconnect between the heated political debates surrounding school shootings and the threat they pose to children in classrooms. School shootings are extremely rare — and the type of mass shootings that drive policy are rarer still.


    The State of School Security Spending: Here’s How States Have Poured $900 Million Into Student Safety Since the Parkland Shooting

    But fear can cloud objective decision-making, argues David Ropeik, a former Harvard University professor and a consultant on risk perception. In his own analysis, he puts the odds that a K-12 student will be shot and killed at a public school at roughly 1 in 614 million. Over the past two decades, fewer than 3 percent of youth homicides and fewer than 1 percent of youth suicides occurred at school, according to a recent National Center for Education Statistics report.

    But when a large number of people die in a single event, Ropeik said, the tragedy feels uniquely threatening. Parents are particularly afraid of threats to their children, especially when managing such risks is largely out of their control. Those concerns, he said, are magnified by the intensely polarized debate over American gun policy.

    “We’re not talking about kids being shot to death by bows and arrows,” Ropeik said. “It is undoubtedly easier to kill people with a gun than anything else — a lot of people all at once, especially. So there is a unique aspect to the shooting part of the issue [that] society has to come to grips with, and that’s tied up in our partisan, tribal polarities.”

    The partisanship has only magnified since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 26 children and educators dead, argues Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. In recent years, both gun rights and gun control groups “have hijacked school safety to advance their political agendas.” That partisanship, he said, means that “knee-jerk legislation” has often taken precedence over comprehensive policies to address school safety.

    Trump said the Florida legislature’s reaction to the Parkland school shooting was a “textbook example” of what to avoid after a school shooting. That law required all schools to hire armed police or security staff, a requirement districts struggled to meet. It also required districts to conduct school security assessments that Trump said were a “hodgepodge patchwork” of physical security checklists that didn’t focus on finer aspects of school safety like emergency planning.

    But not everyone agrees. Mark Barden said he has seen remarkable progress in school safety since his son was killed at Sandy Hook. Barden is a co-founder and the managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit that teaches students and adults how to recognize the warning signs of gun violence. He cited growing support among Americans for stricter gun laws.


    A Toy Gun, a Snapchat Post, and an Arrest

    Trump said the rush to implement stricter policies after mass shootings could be problematic, but Barden said recent tragedies have galvanized people to take action. While gun control activists faced several high-profile electoral defeats in November, including in Florida’s close gubernatorial race, one gun control PAC endorsed 95 candidates who went on to win their seats in the House of Representatives.

    “We just saw a whole bunch of policymakers win their seats because they campaigned primarily on strong gun violence prevention policy,” he said. “I have always known that we had the numbers, but I just think folks were not engaged, and so we’re seeing that engagement now begin to build.”

    Barden is among a growing list of parents and students who’ve become advocates for measures like gun control or stricter school security measures after experiencing tragedy firsthand. That emotional appeal can be effective in encouraging people to join political causes, said Nadine Connell, an associate professor of criminology and director of the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. But that pain, she warned, can lead to shortsighted public policy.

    “We can’t create policy based on somebody’s pain,” she said. “That’s understandably difficult for people to wrap their heads around because the pain is so great.”

    Connell is currently building a database of all school shootings in the U.S. dating back to 1990, which she hopes will help law enforcement and school leaders better understand the causes of school violence and how to prevent it. Although she is still finalizing that report, she said the number of school shootings has remained relatively consistent in the past few decades even as the number of children in America’s K-12 schools has grown.

    She said schools still don’t know how best to prevent school shootings because researchers don’t yet fully understand the underlying motives of school shooters, who are not a homogeneous group. But if officials address other social problems facing children, shootings could also be averted, she said.

    “If our real concern is the safety and well-being of young people, school shootings need to be very low on the list of things that we worry about,” Connell said. “Suicides need to be up there, child neglect and child abuse needs to be up there, and so when you think about it from a social perspective, are we investing in the right things?”

    Some policies passed to thwart school shootings have unintended consequences, she said. For example, she said an increase in school-based police could increase student contact with law enforcement “so now we’re getting more minority young people involved in the criminal justice system, which is an extremely negative outcome on so many levels.”


    74 Interview: Criminologist Nadine Connell on Why She’s Building a 30-Year Database of School Shootings — and What Hidden Lessons May Be Found in the Stats

    Langman, the expert on the psychology of school shooters, believes education and law enforcement officials have the potential to stop gunmen. He spent the bulk of his speech at the school resource officers’ conference reading the harrowing, and often profane, journal entries and classroom assignments from soon-to-be killers. If officials are vigilant, he said, they can identify students at risk of becoming violent and possibly avert the next school shooting.

    But the large-scale concern over school shootings this year also comes with broader implications for student mental health. He said the issue came up at his private practice in Pennsylvania after the shooting in Parkland. After the tragedy, one of his patients, a teenage girl, was living in fear that she’d be shot dead in her classroom. But the girl was more likely to die from being struck by lightning, Langman said.

    “If we’re not going through our day worrying about that lighting bolt,” he said, “you don’t have to worry moment by moment of being gunned down at school.”


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  • QuotED in 2018: The 18 Quotes About Schools and American Education That Shocked, Inspired, and Tickled Us This Year

    By Andrew Brownstein | December 18, 2018

    This is the latest roundup in our “Best Of” series, spotlighting top highlights from this year’s coverage as well as the most popular articles we’ve published each month. See more of the standouts right here: The Best of 2018

    2018 served up plenty of unforgettable moments in the world of education: Parkland survivor Emma González, eyes closed, offering six minutes of silence for the 17 friends lost in February’s shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; the thousands of red-clad, striking teachers marching to state capitols around the country to demand higher pay and increased funding; the U.S. Supreme Court dealing a blow to teachers unions in a long-awaited ruling that dissenting employees cannot be forced to pay public-sector union dues.

    These moments of eloquence (and sometimes, the lack thereof) are captured regularly in QuotED, a roundup of the most notable quotes behind America’s top education headlines — all taken from our weekly EduClips series, which regularly spotlights important headlines you may have missed from America’s 15 largest school districts.

    Here are a few of our favorite education quotes from 2018:

    “I believe that parent choice is widespread in America — unless you are poor.” —Howard Fuller, school choice advocate and distinguished professor of education at Marquette University. (Read at

    “Our actions have not modeled the behavior that we hope to instill in our children that we serve.” —Trustee Diana Dávila, who issued a formal apology on behalf of Houston’s nine-member school board for its contentious and dysfunctional behavior in 2018. (Read at The Houston Chronicle)

    “Our goal is to show our staff, this is what it means to prepare our children for the next level. How do we show parents like mine, who had a second-grade education, what is possible?” —San Antonio Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who launched a radical socioeconomic integration plan in the district. (Read at

    “We have absolutely become numb to these kinds of shootings, and I think that will continue.” —Katherine W. Schweit, former senior FBI official and co-author of a study of 160 active shooting incidents in the United States, on the Jan. 23 shooting at Kentucky’s Marshall County High School. (Read at The New York Times)

    Photo credit: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for March For Our Lives

    “Six minutes and about 20 seconds. In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us.” — Emma González, survivor of February’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, speaking at the March 24 “March for Our Lives” before remaining silent for nearly six minutes to memorialize those killed in the massacre. (Read at Time)

    “When we try the same thing over and over again, yet expect different results, that’s not reform — that’s insanity.” —Betsy DeVos, U.S. education secretary, on the failures of past attempts to reform K-12 education. (Read at

    STAHL: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?

    DEVOS: I have not, I have not, I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

    STAHL: Maybe you should.

    DEVOS: Maybe I should. Yes.

    —Exchange between 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Michigan’s low-performing schools. (Read at CBS News)

    “This has been education’s lost decade.” —Michael Petrilli, president of the reform-oriented Thomas B. Fordham Institute, on the trend of flat progress on the nation’s NAEP scores. (Read at

    Getty Images


    “Wit/Witout: How to order fried onions on your cheesesteak, meaning with or without the onions. (Ex. Whiz wit means you will be getting a cheesesteak, smothered in cheese whiz and topped with fried onions.)” —from the School District of Philadelphia’s guidebook to “Philly slang” for first-year teachers. (Read at 3 CBS Philly)

    “Our ultimate goal is that when teachers and administrators are making a decision that impacts students, they should be asking students. Students are the experts. They have been in school most of their lives, they have a lot to say, and we need to listen.” —Cristina Salgado, the student voice specialist for Chicago Public Schools’ Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement, on Chicago’s student voice committees. (Read at

    “Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, ruling for the 5-4 majority in Janus v. AFSCME that dissenting employees cannot be forced to pay public-sector union dues. (Read at U.S. News & World Report)

    “Working two jobs and trying to maintain a balance with teaching, it does take a toll, especially when you have a family.” —Joe Reid, until recently a middle school language arts teacher in Hebron, Indiana. A federal analysis shows that 1 in 5 teachers has a second job. (Read at Education Week)

    Ralph Freso/ Getty Images

    “This cross-state communication is happening because of hashtags. The reason the tactics look the same is because we’re all looking at one another’s pictures and saying, ‘Oh, that looks super cool, all that red.’ We’re just stealing good ideas from each other.” —Dawn Penich-Thacker, communications director at Save Our Schools Arizona, on 2018’s teacher strike movement. (Read at

    “I believe, mark my words, that every [candidate] will get the question, ‘Are you going to fulfill the next three years of universal, full-day pre-K?’ And I guarantee you that all of them are going to say ‘Yes.’ Because that’s what the public wants. … It’s what our kids need.” —Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on the chances of his sprawling pre-K initiative surviving his departure. (Read at

    “I don’t think we’ll get $200 million unless we hit the Powerball.” —Broward County school board chairwoman Nora Rupert, on the funding a report recommended for mental health professionals to treat students and families after the Feb. 14 shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Read at the Sun-Sentinel)

    Getty Images

    “It’s not that they’re villains and they don’t care and they don’t want safe schools — I’m not trying to send that message. But they’re certainly opportunistic. At the end of the day, they’re looking for new revenue streams.” —Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, which consults districts on school safety planning, on the $3 billion school security industry. (Read at

    “The lies they’re telling are a little smaller than the lies they used to tell.” —Ron Francis, a Dallas middle school teacher, on the Texas Board of Education’s decision to highlight the “expansion of slavery” as having played “the central role” in sparking the Civil War. Previously, state education standards listed the factor among others, including sectionalism and “states’ rights.” (Read at the Huffington Post)

    “Not to unduly shame the American education system, but chances are Bob Dorough has had more of an impact on grammar fluency than any other individual in the 20th century.” —A 2016 People magazine article on Dorough, the Schoolhouse Rock composer who died on April 23. (Read at

    For a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, go to EduClips.


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  • Trump School Safety Commission Recommends Rejection of Obama-Era Discipline Reform, Encourages More Armed Staff and Physical Security

    By Mark Keierleber | December 18, 2018

    In a highly anticipated but controversial move, the Trump administration’s school safety commission recommended on Tuesday the repeal of Obama-era school discipline guidance that pushed schools to reduce their reliance on suspensions and warned them that racial disparities in punishments could violate federal civil rights laws.

    The recommendation is one of many in a new report released by the Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and created after the February mass school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Conservative education pundits have been calling on DeVos to rescind the discipline guidance since long before the massacre, and observers on both sides of the debate expressed surprise it has taken her so long to act. Still, Tuesday’s move inspired a fierce backlash from some teachers and civil rights groups who argue the administration is turning its back on black students who are disproportionately punished.

    The 177-page report follows months of meetings and school visits featuring psychologists, campus-based police, school leaders, and other stakeholders. On the whole, it dodges calls for stricter gun laws and instead emphasizes defensive measures, such as arming school staff, increasing the presence of school-based police, and “hardening” school buildings with physical security like bullet-resistant windows.

    The report encourages more states to adopt “extreme risk protection order” laws that allow officials to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed unsafe to themselves or others. Such laws already exist in 13 states, the report notes. The report also urges states to consider training people how to store firearms safely and calls for further research on methods to prevent youth from unlawfully accessing guns. Separately, the Justice Department on Tuesday moved to formally ban “bump stocks,” which allow semiautomatic weapons to be fired more rapidly.

    In step with her more conservative approach to school policy, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday the bulk of efforts to combat school violence should rest in the hands of local communities.

    “Our recommendations can assist states and local communities, but ultimately governors and state legislators should work with local school leaders, teachers, parents, and students to address their own unique challenges and develop their own specific solutions,” DeVos said on a call with reporters Tuesday morning.


    A Toy Gun, a Snapchat Post, and an Arrest

    Addressing the Obama-era discipline guidance directly, a senior White House official on the call said they were concerned about a “recurring narrative” that students and educators feared leaving the antisocial or aggressive behaviors of students “unpunished.”

    “That’s the first move that the report makes is to correct for that problem,” the official said.

    President Donald Trump discussed the report Tuesday afternoon during a roundtable discussion at the White House featuring several parents who lost children in the Parkland shooting.

    “We’ve taken important steps, but much work remains to be done, as always,” Trump said before outlining several recommendations in the report, including one to arm school personnel. “All of this horrible carnage takes place in a very short period of time. That is why it’s critical to have armed personnel available at a moment’s notice.”

    The school discipline debate stems back to 2014, when the Obama-led Departments of Education and Justice released a joint “Dear Colleague” letter that put districts that disciplined students of color and those with disabilities disproportionately on notice that they could be in violation of federal civil rights laws. The letter targeted discipline policies that didn’t explicitly mention race but had “a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.”

    While acknowledging that a range of factors contribute to racial disparities in discipline, the Obama administration said the differences couldn’t be explained by more frequent or serious misbehavior among students of color, adding that “unexplained racial disparities in student discipline give rise to concerns that schools may be engaging in racial discrimination.”

    Though some districts had already recalibrated their discipline policies away from suspensions in favor of reforms like restorative justice, the guidance urged others to follow suit. Proponents have argued that suspensions are ineffective and that racial disparities in student discipline stem, at least in part, from implicit bias.

    “Studies have consistently found harsh exclusionary discipline and physical punishments are associated with negative long-term outcomes,” former education secretaries Arne Duncan and John King said in a statement. “We put this guidance in place to start a conversation about these harmful practices and encourage advocates and policymakers to look more deeply into why these disparities exist and to intervene when necessary.”

    But critics accused the Obama administration of government overreach and of sowing chaos and disorder in schools.

    The most recent federal data on student discipline show a marked decline in student suspensions in recent years. In 2015-16, roughly 2.7 million students received at least one out-of-school suspension — about 100,000 fewer than in 2013-14. However, racial disparities in discipline persist.

    During the 2015-16 school year, black boys and girls each made up just 8 percent of enrolled students, but black boys made up 25 percent of students suspended at least once, and black girls accounted for 14 percent. Black boys comprised 23 percent of students expelled, as did 20 percent of black girls.

    When the Trump administration announced the creation of the safety commission, it listed the repeal of the discipline guidance as one strategy to prevent violence.

    In the commission report, the Trump administration argues the discipline guidance threatened districts with federal civil rights investigations, likely causing “a strong, negative” impact on school safety. The report said the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights should investigate and remedy discrimination “when there is evidence beyond a mere statistical disparity.”


    Inside the $3 Billion School Security Industry: Companies Market Sophisticated Technology to ‘Harden’ Campuses, but Will It Make Us Safe?

    School discipline reforms in Broward County became a sticking point after reporters examined the disciplinary record of the accused gunman in Parkland. In 2013, the year before the Obama administration’s guidance was released, the Broward County school district launched a diversion program designed to help students who commit minor offenses avoid suspension and arrest. After the shooting, Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, urged the Trump administration to rescind the discipline guidance, arguing that the Broward County district’s efforts to reduce suspensions could have contributed to the shooting. The suspected gunman, who is white, was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School prior to the attack.

    In July, a state commission investigating the Parkland shooting found several flaws in the district’s discipline policy but concluded it wasn’t relevant to the massacre. Max Eden, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, argues otherwise. Although Broward County’s discipline reforms preceded the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, he said the Florida district’s efforts helped “inform and inspire” the federal guidance. He called the Parkland shooting an “extreme case study” of what can go wrong when districts try to reduce suspension rates.

    “This is a kid who didn’t get arrested despite having allegedly committed many crimes in school, and a school district that made a point of trying to reduce arrests as aggressively as possible,” Eden said. “I wonder if some red flags were missed willfully in the course of this individual’s life.”


    New Study: Suspending Students for Minor Infractions Like Cursing Hurts Kids but Benefits Nobody

    David Griffith, senior research and policy associate at the Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education think tank, supports the repeal of the Obama-era guidance. Though suspensions could harm student outcomes, he said he supports a “bottom up” approach to addressing the issue and does not want “to just accuse every teacher in America of secret racism.”

    But linking the broader policy debate over student discipline to Parkland, he said, is “deeply irresponsible.”

    “You cannot just observe that a school shooting happened and then start talking about — without evidence, really — the fact that discipline reform is responsible for it,” Griffith said. “There are very real school safety issues. Suspensions are connected to them, but anybody who is trying to link a specific act of violence to the broader debate over school discipline probably isn’t trying to get at the truth.”

    Even without Parkland’s incendiary baggage, the school discipline debate remains highly fraught. Researchers are still exploring the effects of suspensions on student outcomes, the drivers behind racial disparities, and the efficacy of alternatives like restorative justice. One recent study, conducted by researchers at Mathematica Policy Research and the University of Pennsylvania, found that out-of-school suspensions hamper the academic achievement of punished students but have no effects on their well-behaved classroom peers. Another report, conducted by researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans, found that when black and white students got into fights, the black student received a slightly longer suspension.


    DeVos Holds ‘Listening Sessions’ on Student Discipline as GAO Report Confirms Widespread Racial Disparities

    Among the groups that urged DeVos to keep the discipline guidance in place is the nonprofit Educators for Excellence. In a recent teacher survey, the group found that fewer than 40 percent of teachers saw suspensions or expulsions as effective strategies to improve student behavior. A larger share of respondents favor non-punitive discipline approaches like positive behavior enforcement and restorative practices, though educators said they wanted more training on how to implement the alternative methods.

    DeVos “promised to listen to teachers, the real experts on student discipline, but their pleas clearly fell on deaf ears,” Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence, said in a statement. He noted that while the Education Department is able to rescind the guidance, it doesn’t have authority to change federal civil rights laws and cannot change the reality inside American classrooms. “The decision does not change the fact that there is a persistent problem that threatens the future of millions of children, and the Department must work with teachers to find solutions.”


    The State of School Security Spending: Here’s How States Have Poured $900 Million Into Student Safety Since the Parkland Shooting

    Among education leaders who met with DeVos and encouraged her to rescind the guidance was Ann Miller, a board member at Baltimore County Public Schools. Shortly after the federal guidance was released, the state education board in Maryland adopted a policy designed to reduce suspension rates. While the suspension rate in Baltimore County has actually increased over the past several years, Miller argued that the punishments fell far short of the number of student disruptions.

    Brett Bigham, an educator from Oregon and the state’s teacher of the year in 2014, urged DeVos to retain the discipline guidance — despite experiencing brutal violence and threats from students over the course of his teaching career. Bigham is currently a substitute teacher in Portland but has spent most of his career in special education classrooms. In one violent episode, Bigham said, a student slapped him in the face with the understanding he’d get sent home for misbehavior. But sending the student home, Bigham said, didn’t improve the child’s behavior. Some students view suspensions as a reward, he said, because they get to stay home and play video games.

    Bigham was working at a suburban Portland school when the Obama administration released the discipline guidance, which he said resulted in the district hiring more support staff for teachers. Removing the guidance, he argued, could hurt students.

    “You condemn that child to a life of poverty in the best-case scenario because they’re not going to finish school very well,” he said. “If they’re being sent home two days a week, they’re not going to graduate. They’re going to be condemned to a life of poverty or they’re going to be condemned to a life in prison because they can’t make a living.”

    JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, criticized the administration for spending “seven months and untold tax dollars on rediscovering well-known safety strategies” but welcomed the report’s call to improve mental health supports for students. In a statement, Bartoletti criticized the administration’s recommendation to arm school personnel — “markably the only federal guidance this administration does not perceive as intrusive and burdensome, on a notion rejected by a consensus of education organizations and the educators, parents, and students they represent.”

    AASA, the School Superintendents Association, criticized the commission for issuing recommendations without additional federal investment.

    “If a district cannot afford to hire a mental health provider, it’s hard to imagine how recommendations to adopt comprehensive school-based mental health care services could be meaningfully implemented,” the group’s executive director, Daniel Domenech, said in a statement. “Similarly, if a district has been unable to afford updating its buildings for 40 years, it’s impossible to imagine they would be well-served by a recommendation to limit entry points by rerouting roads or eliminating access points to the building.”


    ‘The Safest School in America’ Deploys a Range of Sophisticated Security Technology. Is It a National Model?

  • Teen Suspected of Planning Shooting Dead After Exchanging Gunfire With Police at Indiana Middle School; At Least 49 Killed, 88 Injured by Guns at Schools So Far This Year

    By Mark Keierleber | December 13, 2018

    The 74 will be tracking gun-related injuries and deaths at schools throughout 2018. Bookmark this page for the latest reports, or sign up to receive updates straight to your inbox via The 74 Newsletter.

    A teenage boy reportedly shot himself dead Thursday after police responded to a tip that he planned to open fire at an Indiana middle school.

    Police responded to Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond early Thursday morning after school officials received a tip that the teen planned to commit violence, CNN reports. The teen exchanged gunfire with police at the school before fatally shooting himself.

    In 2018, at least 49 people have been killed and 88 have been injured due to shootings on K-12 school and college property. Learn more about each incident with our interactive map:

    This map includes school shootings that took place on campus where a person was injured or killed. Incidents resulting in injury are labeled blue, while incidents resulting in death are labeled red. The most recent incident is indicated with a larger icon. Click on the icons to see details about each incident.

    Behind the numbers:

    Nationally, nearly 1,300 children (17 years old and younger) die from gunshot wounds each year and 5,790 are treated for injuries, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. While unintentional firearms deaths and homicides of children have decreased in recent years, suicides have spiked.

    Among child gun deaths between 2012 and 2014, 53 percent were homicides, 38 percent were suicides and 6 percent were unintentional.

    Less than 3 percent of youth homicides and less than 1 percent of youth suicides occur at school, according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

    If we’ve missed a school incident you think should be included in our coverage, please send an email to, and bookmark this page for the latest reports of incidents involving the discharging of a firearm on school property that results in a wound or fatality.


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  • What’s in a Report Card? Depends on Who You Ask. New Report Shows That Parents and Teachers Have Very Different Understandings of Grades & Tests

    By Kate Stringer | December 11, 2018

    This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

    If a child earns a B– in math on his report card, is that a good grade, or does it mean he’s the worst in the class?

    Ask a parent and a teacher, and you’ll likely hear very different answers. But that disconnect is just the beginning when it comes to how these two groups understand the education system and all the grades, jargon, and communication within it, according to a new report from the nonprofit Learning Heroes.

    “We’re not helping parents in ways that we should be to make sure they have that complete, accurate picture of how their child is achieving,” said Bibb Hubbard, founder and president of Learning Heroes. “The system puts all these barriers in the way.”

    One of those barriers, Hubbard said, is the report card. It’s the No. 1 way parents say they know how well their children are doing academically. But report cards usually fail to say whether students are performing at grade level. The survey found that most parents — 6 in 10 — said their children earn As and Bs, which they think means their kids are performing at the level they should be for their grade.

    But teachers said report cards are only the third-most important tool for understanding student achievement. For teachers, a report card is a combination of grades, effort, and progress. About one-third of teachers said they feel pressure from administrators or parents to avoid giving too many low grades, and more than half said they are expected to let students redo work for additional credit.

    “I think grades have been inflated for years — 100 percent,” an elementary school teacher from New Hampshire told Learning Heroes. “I think most teachers would be lying if they didn’t say a B–, C+, C are the lowest kids.”

    This disconnect was surprising, Hubbard said.

    “To hear teachers qualitatively say, ‘Oh yeah, report cards do not measure achievement alone and do not equate to grade level,’ and then to hear the juxtaposition of parents who … say, ‘That’s what I have to go on — that’s all I have to know if my child is achieving,’ was just really powerful,” Hubbard said.

    Learning Heroes

    Parents usually receive their child’s state test scores from the previous school year in the summer or fall. While these scores show whether or not students were on grade level, they can sometimes be difficult to decipher, Hubbard said, and parents often see them as old news.

    “Parents say, ‘My child is wearing a different shoe size, they’ve grown 3 inches since they took that last test, of course they’re not in the same place that they were last year,’ so when the results come in, if they come in such a delayed time frame, they feel less relevant for parents,” Hubbard said.

    There’s a big gap between how well parents think their children are doing and how well students across the nation actually perform. While about 90 percent of parents surveyed in 2017 said their child was achieving at or above grade level, only 30 to 40 percent actually were, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which looked at fourth- and eighth-graders’ performance in math and reading.


    90% of Parents Think Their Kids Are on Track in Math & Reading. The Real Number? Just 1 in 3, Survey Shows

    The Learning Heroes survey found that teachers feel untrained and unsupported in how to have difficult conversations with parents. Teachers said that when they tell parents about their child’s poor grades, some parents blame the teachers and some don’t believe them. A little more than half of teachers said they have no training on how to talk to parents about their child’s academic challenges.

    Another area of disconnect is which worries parents and teachers have about their students. Parents are most concerned about the happiness and emotional well-being of their children, while teachers are most worried about challenges students might face at home, like poverty and food insecurity. Teachers are more worried about a student being on track academically than parents are, with about one-third of educators citing this as a worry, compared with one-fourth of parents.

    Learning Heroes

    There’s also a gap between how much parents think they’re involved in school versus how much teachers say they are. While two-thirds of parents said they rank their involvement in school between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale, only 28 percent of teachers said they consider it that high.

    “Parents definitely believe that they are doing a good job being involved, without a doubt,” said Adam Burns, chief operations officer of Edge Research, which conducted the study. “What’s really fascinating is that teachers see it very differently.”

    Learning Heroes

    To get parents and teachers on the same page, Learning Heroes recommends that schools provide more information about whether students are performing on grade level, like using a worksheet its team developed that provides this information and advice for how parents can help students at home. To improve communication with parents, Hubbard recommends using established programs like home visits or “Academic Parent Teacher Teams,” a model that allows more time for teachers to meet and collaborate with parents.

    The report includes both qualitative and quantitative data collected by Edge Research in 2018. The study consisted of two nationally representative online surveys of both parents and teachers, as well as focus groups of parents, teachers, and students.

    Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York provide funding to Learning Heroes and The 74.


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  • After School Shooting, This Indiana District Sees Mental Health as Strategy to Curb Suicide, Violence

    By Mark Keierleber | December 9, 2018

    Located northeast of Indianapolis, the suburb of Fishers is known for its affluence and low crime. Citing its “entrepreneurial spirit,” Money magazine recently named the city America’s best place to live.

    During a ride-along with a police officer a few years back, however, Mayor Scott Fadness learned of a darker side to the city. Fadness asked the officer which emergency calls bothered him the most, expecting to hear about domestic violence or high-speed pursuits.

    He was wrong.

    “Immediate detentions” were the top concern, the officer responded. Once per shift in the city of roughly 90,000 residents, officers detain people — including students — because they present a threat to themselves or others.

    Even in this wealthy enclave, Fadness realized, residents’ mental health had fallen off the radar.

    “I asked our public-safety individuals initially, ‘What are we doing around the issue of mental health?’ And, to be frank with you, the answer was ‘Nothing, really,’” Fadness told The 74. “No one really felt it was part of their core mission to address this issue.”

    In response, Fadness launched a citywide effort to build up mental health supports, including a large focus on the city’s schools. The schools got new therapists, emergency response officials received new training, and public officials — from school employees to police — began working more collaboratively.

    And though suicide prevention motivated the push, tragedy in May opened the mayor’s eyes to another potential benefit. In Noblesville, a neighboring Indianapolis suburb, a gunman opened fire in a middle school, injuring a teacher and a student.

    Like a lot of school districts across the country this year, particularly after the mass school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, officials in Fishers began examining its school safety procedures. While many have turned to enhancing school security, Fishers took a different approach.

    Although some parents urged Fadness to “harden the target” with metal detectors and other security, he resisted. Instead, he said, the best approach is to identify at-risk students and provide them with supports.

    “That’s what happens time and time again in these violent situations: These kids get further and further isolated from society,” Fadness said. “If we can re-enter them and assimilate them back into the culture by wrapping around services, that would be the appropriate course.”

    Addressing student needs

    Fadness laid out a scenario he said is common in America: A police officer pulls over a teen with a loaded gun who is “quoting Bible verses” and planning violence. In most situations, he said, officers detain young people and drop them off at a mental health facility.

    Following an evaluation, he said, the individual is often released the following morning and school officials aren’t informed about the student’s bad night. Things are different in Fishers. Through a memorandum of understanding with the police department and a local mental health care provider, school officials are looped in from the beginning.

    When a child leaves the hospital, a district crisis liaison then visits the student and helps them transition back into school, said Brooke Lawson, the mental health and school counseling coordinator at Hamilton Southeastern Schools. For example, the liaison discusses with students how they can explain to classmates where they’ve been, or how to adjust class schedules to make the school day less stressful.

    When Fishers began its mental health push three years ago, it increased the number of therapists in schools and created new student clubs that aim to curb stigma. Since then, the number of students receiving care has soared.

    Before the initiative launched, the district had two mental health therapists who provided supports to about 50 of the district’s 22,000 students. Now, there are 14 therapists and a crisis liaison serving the district’s 22 campuses. Last year, 859 students were referred for mental health supports and 600 of them received therapy at school.

    Lawson said the two-week window after a student is discharged from the hospital is the most critical time to provide interventions. That’s why schools are a natural place to offer the services.

    A lot of students in this wealthy enclave experience pressure to perform well in school, Lawson said. The top mental health diagnoses among young people in the community, she said, are anxiety and stress-related disorders. According to a student survey, fear of failure was a large concern.

    By lowering the stigma so people seek help, and by approaching them when they exhibit troubling behaviors, Fadness argues the district has reduced disciplinary incidents and improved student performance.

    Whether the strategy could reduce the threat of an active shooter, however, remains the source of an ongoing national debate.

    Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report studying the pre-attack behaviors of gunmen who carried out mass shootings between 2000 and 2013. The report found that the shooters didn’t share common traits that could allow officials to identify potential shooters based on demographics alone. Of active shooters in the study, for example, 25 percent had been diagnosed with a mental illness. But a Secret Service report, which focused on mass shootings in 2017, found that nearly two-thirds of gunmen experienced mental health symptoms prior to the attacks, including paranoia and suicidal thoughts.

    The connection to mental illness is even more tenuous when the scope is broadened beyond mass shooters. A study released in 2016 by the American Psychiatric Association found that people with serious mental illness represent just 1 percent of firearm homicides each year.

    In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, said Katherine Cowan, spokeswoman for the National Association of School Psychologists. Still, she said, adequate mental health supports are crucial to maintaining safe schools, in part because school safety extends far beyond statistically rare shootings. Psychologists also provide help to students who don’t have a diagnosable mental illness, she said. Students could be struggling with trauma or grief if, for example, they recently lost a loved one.

    That’s exactly what is happening in Fishers.

    “If Jimmy has a kill list written down,” he may not suffer from a specific mental illness, Fadness said, adding that the student is “crying out for some kind of help.” Officials could help the student learn how to interact with other children at school or how to handle problems at home. “But the fact of the matter is, you still have to put the resources in place to help that child assimilate or be a part of society.”


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  • Chris Cerf: Tossing Aside the ‘Reform’ Label in Education Reform Must Not Mean Anything Goes

    By Chris Cerf | December 5, 2018

    As Robin Lake recently observed, it is time to move past the phrase “education reformer.” In a curious linguistic twist, over the past decade, opponents of transformational change have co-opted the word “reform” and essentially converted it into a malediction.

    I say “curious” because it is difficult to imagine the logic of turning “reformer” into an insult when African-American, Latino, and impoverished students are succeeding in school at devastatingly lower rates than their white and affluent counterparts; when student achievement has flatlined over the past few years after making real strides in the previous 15 years, and when inevitable changes in the U.S. economy guarantee that undereducated children are going to have an even lower chance of finding economic security in a job market that is being rapidly transformed by automation and internationalization. One would think that seeking to “reform” a system that yields these outcomes would be considered a good thing.

    But given that the term “reform” itself has become freighted, I have no problem tossing it aside. What does matter is that the urgency of bravely pushing for positive change remains front and center; that we resist the temptation to return to the “anything goes” mentality that preceded the standards movement and No Child Left Behind; that we improve on, rather than abandon, proven ideas (like standards, accountability, empowering parents with more options, and acknowledging differences in teacher efficacy); and that we not fall prey to politically safe slogans like “personalized learning,” “student agency,” or “community schools” to the extent they operate as a substitute for making sure that every child, regardless of birth circumstances, is launched into adulthood prepared to succeed in life.

    Lest I invite the wrath of those who are appropriately invested in developing such initiatives, I support them all — just not as ends in themselves, but only insofar as they actually advance the moral imperative of at long last achieving educational equity in this country.

    Chris Cerf is a former New Jersey commissioner of education, deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, and, most recently, superintendent of Newark Public Schools.


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  • National Poll on Education Attitudes Finds Majority of Teachers Down on Profession, Lack Trust in Parents

    By Kevin Mahnken | December 5, 2018

    This is the latest article in The 74’s ongoing ‘Big Picture’ series, bringing American education into sharper focus through new research and data. Go Deeper: See our full series.

    American teachers are less enthused about their jobs than are local politicians or active-duty military personnel, according to the 2018 EdChoice Schooling in America Survey. After a year that saw educators revolt over low pay and teachers unions seriously weakened by a landmark Supreme Court decision, the survey also found the profession disillusioned with parents and school boards.

    This is the sixth edition of the annual poll, which measures public attitudes on schooling options, school quality, and state and federal education policy. EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based research and advocacy group, tends to favor school choice options such as private school vouchers or education savings accounts.

    The poll’s 2018 iteration is the first to include the voices of teachers. Survey administrators conducted online interviews with 777 traditional public school teachers (i.e., active instructors working exclusively in district schools, not charters) about their feelings toward the job, this year’s wave of mass walkouts, and their level of trust in key figures in public schooling.

    The results were bracing. Overall, teachers were unlikely to recommend teaching as a profession.

    To rate job satisfaction, EdChoice relied on a metric called Net Promoter Score, a calculation designed to measure how likely a customer would be to continue to buy a given product and urge others to do so. On a 10-point scale, respondents who rate themselves a nine or a 10 are considered “promoters,” who will loyally stump for a product or service; those who rate a seven or eight are so-called “passives,” who could be lured away by a competitor; and anyone rated six or below are “detractors,” unhappy consumers who pose an active threat to the brand through bad word-of-mouth.

    When asked by EdChoice whether they would recommend teaching in a public school to a friend, a full 74 percent of respondents were measured as either passives or detractors. The median score for teachers was just a 6.49 — much lower than comparable ratings for state legislators (8.19) or military service members (8.41). The survey authors wrote that they were “shocked” by the level of dissatisfaction.

    Additionally, few teachers said they placed much trust in education stakeholders outside their building. While a majority of teachers said they had “complete” or “a lot of” trust in their principal (57 percent) or their students (52 percent), less than half said the same of their union leadership (46 percent) or their district superintendent (41 percent). Parents won a great deal of trust from only 36 percent of teachers, while state and federal education authorities were both mired beneath the 30 percent mark.

    Other noteworthy findings from the survey:

    ● Fifty-five percent of the general public — a selection of 1,002 respondents independent from the teacher sample — said that public education in the United States was headed on the “wrong track,” the same percentage as in last year’s survey. Thirty-five percent said the opposite, an eight-point increase since 2007.

    ● Many parents report making considerable sacrifices for the sake of their children’s education. Some 40 percent reported taking on an additional job to support their kids’ schooling needs, nearly twice as many as when EdChoice asked the same question in 2016. Thirty percent said they had changed their jobs, while 29 percent said they had moved closer to their kids’ school.

    ● Even as many expressed pessimism with America’s education system overall, most parents said they were satisfied with their own children’s schools. Eighty-six percent of homeschool parents, 79 percent of private school parents, 78 percent of charter parents, and 66 percent of district school parents said they were satisfied with their schools.


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  • Nation’s First Charter School Teacher Strike Shutters Class for 7,000 Students in Chicago

    By Laura Fay | December 4, 2018

    In the first strike of charter school teachers in the nation’s history, 500 staff members walked off the job from Chicago’s Acero Schools charter network Tuesday morning after negotiations broke down overnight.

    The strike forced the network to cancel class for more than 7,000 students in its 15 schools across the city. The teachers’ demands include higher pay, more teacher diversity, more special education staff, smaller class sizes, and a shorter school year.

    They also want all 15 schools to be declared “sanctuary schools,” which would prevent the network from sharing students’ information with federal authorities and would bar federal agents from entering the schools without a warrant. More than 90 percent of Acero’s students are Latino.

    Critics have said teachers should be wary of aligning themselves with a union that has consistently fought against charter schools. Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, called the union’s push for a strike a “bait and switch” and said charter teachers joining unions could lead to “the same restrictive contracts that prevent progress in public school generally.” Research shows that Chicago’s charter schools outperform the city’s traditional district schools on several measures.

    Although no classes were held Tuesday, the schools were open for students who needed somewhere to go during the day, and breakfast and lunch were served, according to the network’s website.

    “The sad fact is that interests from outside our community are using our students and our schools as a means to advance their national anti-charter school platform. They don’t want our schools to succeed because it doesn’t serve their agenda,” Acero Schools CEO Richard Rodriguez said in a statement posted online.

    Nationally, the vast majority of charter school educators do not belong to unions, but Acero teachers unionized in 2013, joining the Chicago Teachers Union, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate. AFT president Randi Weingarten joined the teachers on the picket line Tuesday.

    The strike caps a year marked by statewide teacher walkouts in several states where, in many cases, teachers were demanding higher pay, more classroom resources and support staff, and more state funding for education overall.

    “This activism is contagious,” Weingarten said.

    The Chicago Teachers Union president, Jesse Sharkey, said Tuesday morning the strike will continue until an agreement is reached.

    Here’s what the demonstrations looked like.


    Broy: Chicago’s Teachers Union Is Claiming the Role of Advocate for Charter School Educators. It’s Really Just a Bait-and-Switch

  • ‘I’m Down With Any School That’s Successfully Educating Children’: Here’s How Social Media Reacted to Roland Martin’s Indianapolis Town Hall on Education & Equity

    By Laura Fay | December 2, 2018

    At a packed event Sunday evening at the Indianapolis Public Library, journalist Roland Martin asked tough questions of local school leaders about education, equity, and America’s persistent achievement gap between students of different races.

    The event, “School Choice Is the Black Choice: Indianapolis,” marked the first education town hall in what will be a national series of such events, engaging black families on issues of student achievement, parent involvement, and classroom equity. The tour is being organized in conjunction with The 74’s newest website, Keeping It 100, which prioritizes stories, profiles, and essays about how schools across the country are serving students and families of color.


    ‘School Choice Is the Black Choice’: Roland Martin Kicks Off Education Tour With Indianapolis Town Hall, Tough Questions About School Innovation & the Achievement Gap

    Hundreds turned out for the Sunday town hall in Indiana, where Martin pressed local education leaders to reflect on teacher diversity, school discipline, and parent engagement.

    Here were some of the remarks, reactions, and questions that followed the event on social media:

    Throughout the night, Martin stressed the need for education advocates to work together to create change through school choice.

    Panelists included education consultant George Parker; Derrell Bradford, executive vice president of 50CAN; Candace Pate, director of admissions and community partnerships at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis; Aleesia Johnson, Indianapolis Public Schools deputy superintendent for academics; and Kelli Marshall, CEO of Tindley Accelerated Schools.

    Panelists also weighed in on union politics, equity, and school discipline.

    After hearing about Indianapolis’s system of traditional district schools, innovation network schools, and charter schools, Martin pressed the panelists to think about how they can change a “convoluted” system.

    The event brought together more than 300 local educators, parents, and advocates.

    You can learn more about the national tour right here; register to get the latest “School Choice Is the Black Choice” coverage delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.