Schooled Reporting on education

Getting our school shooting facts straight

Education | Keeping students safe requires policymakers and educators to consider the truth about where, why, and how often violence comes to campus
by Leigh Jones
Posted 1/31/18, 03:58 pm

Kentucky lawmakers from both parties are scrambling to find a solution to the scourge of school shootings following a 15-year-old boy’s rampage at a rural high school in Marshall County. The teen, armed with a handgun, shot 16 classmates last week, killing two of them.

While some lawmakers focused on ways to keep guns out of schools—and just about everywhere else—others suggested more guns might be the answer. Kentucky law now bans guns on school grounds, unless carried by a law enforcement officer. One proposed bill would allow school districts to create “marshals,” employees with licenses to carry guns who could help patrol campuses that can’t afford to hire an official school resource officer.

“I’m going to be beating the drum again. We had this shooting this week. If we do what we did last time and nothing is done, this will come back again,” state Sen. Steve West said, referring to the 1997 shooting in Paducah, Ky., that killed three students.

Gun control advocates agree with West on at least one thing: the inevitability of the next school shooting. The latest incident in Kentucky came just one day after another shooting at a high school in North Texas, where a 16-year-old boy wounded a 15-year-old girl. Two shootings in one week seemed tragic enough, but gun control advocates made an even more shocking claim: According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which tracks U.S. gun violence, there have been 11 school shootings since Jan. 1.

Why haven’t we heard about all these cases? Because most of them didn’t involve students. The list includes a Michigan man who committed suicide in his car in the parking lot of an elementary school closed for the day. It also includes a fight between two men at a sorority party in North Carolina, a teen who committed suicide in a school restroom, and two instances of off-campus gunfire that hit a school building, injuring no one.

While any amount of violence affecting students is unacceptable, it’s vital to accurately assess the problem so lawmakers, educators, and parents can come up with an effective solution.

Katherine Newman, a researcher who studies rampage shootings, found that most mass shootings happen in small towns, where close community relationships mean the signs of a potential attack rarely go unnoticed. In places viewed as “idyllic” for raising children, kids who don’t fit in stand out. The shooters Newman studied, including Paducah gunman Michael Carneal, wanted to leave their mark on something.

“They were trying to get people to think of them as an antihero because that was better than being thought of as a loser,” she said.

Classmates of the accused Marshall County shooter described him as shy, quiet, and nice but said he had appeared anxious about school and “a little down” in recent weeks. Investigators haven’t released many details about a possible motive, although rumors of bullying are circulating on social media.

With so many common factors identified in school shooters after the fact, educators, friends, and neighbors have a long list of warning signs to watch for and speak up about before it’s too late. Three days after the Kentucky shooting, police in Uniontown, Pa., arrested a 14-year-old boy after he threatened to kill classmates at his high school. When they searched his room, they found a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, two machetes, throwing knives, two lever-action rifles, a revolver, a crossbow with arrows, and bulk ammunition.

District Attorney Rich Bower praised the student who reported the threats and didn’t discount them: “Fortunately, nothing occurred, nobody got hurt.”

While lawmakers debate policy solutions, the real answer to stopping mass attacks by lonely, disaffected students might lie in two Biblical prescriptions for living in community: Be kind and love your neighbor.

Associated Press/Photo by David Goldman Associated Press/Photo by David Goldman A diploma from Everest University, a subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges

Two wrongs do not make a right

The Education Department announced in December it planned to end the Obama administration’s policy of wiping out student loans for anyone who attended a for-profit college that went out of business. Thousands of former Corinthian Colleges students won loan forgiveness under the so-called borrower defense rule, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos warned those defrauded students wouldn’t be allowed to turn around and commit their own fraud, at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

In announcing the policy change, DeVos said “no fraud is acceptable, and students deserve relief if the school they attended acted dishonestly.” But she vowed to adopt a new policy that also “protects taxpayers from being forced to shoulder massive costs that may be unjustified.”

And now we know how much protection taxpayers are going to get. According to a new analysis, the new policy could save taxpayers up to 60 percent of what they would have paid to cover all the former Corinthian students’ loans. Under the new rules, Education Department staff will consider average income for specific programs before deciding how much student loan forgiveness an applicant should get. Some former students probably will have their entire debt wiped away, but others will have to continue making loan payments.

Critics call the plan unfair, especially those students who don’t receive full loan forgiveness who would have if the Education Department had processed their applications 18 months sooner. That “luck of the draw” timing difference is sure to spawn lawsuits from students who say they didn’t get as good a deal as their former classmates. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa Hasty Pudding theatre troupe president Amira Weeks

Harvard opens all-male drama club to women

Last week, I wrote about Yale University encouraging fraternities to allow women to pledge. This week, I bring you another Ivy League school bending to new cultural gender norms. After resisting pressure from gender equality activists for years, Harvard’s Hasty Pudding theater troupe announced last week it would open its all-male cast to female actors. The 223-year-old theatrical club allows women to serve in writing, directing, and administrative roles—they just couldn’t be on stage, until now. The tradition of men playing female roles dates back to Shakespearean times, when women were not allowed to act. “While we have great respect for the art form as it's been presented by the Pudding … the world is in a very different place,” club president Amira Weeks said. “We are very proud to take this organization forward as a leader in women's rights and gender equality.” —L.J.

Counting their pennies

Wealthy colleges and universities bemoaned last year’s tax system overhaul for stealing from their already constrained coffers via a 1.4 percent tax on endowment funds. It’s a good thing the latest report on endowment fund performance didn’t come out while university administrators were playing beggar on Capitol Hill. According to the annual survey from the Commonfund Institute and the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the average college endowment grew by 12.2 percent in fiscal year 2017. That growth is even more remarkable compared to the previous year’s numbers: -1.9 percent average return in 2016 and 2.4 percent in 2015. Harvard University continues to have the most money, $36 billion, but had the smallest gains at 4.3 percent. Of 800 schools surveyed, the average endowment tops $700 million, with 100 reporting at least $1 billion and 10 reporting $10 billion or more. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Thu, 02/01/2018 02:14 am

    It's a little amusing to try to spin the decision of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals to include women in the cast as some sort of marker for the breakdown in traditional gender norms when the club's shows are literally famous for being burlesque drag shows.