Caps and Gowns for All?

by Nick Molnar on July 10, 2006

The South Bend Tribune recently reported that improving South Bend’s graduation rate was among the challenges facing new superintendent Robert Zimmerman. In a June 25th article, education reporter Michael Wanbaugh wrote “Hovering around 50 percent, the corporation’s graduation rate remains perhaps the most notable issue facing the schools and the community.”

While this statistic is striking, it differs dramatically from those reported by the Indiana Department of Education which hover around 90%.

I e-mailed the reporter enquiring about their number and was told it was calculated by dividing the number of 2004-05 graduates by the corporation’s freshman enrollment four years earlier, “which returns a graduation rate of 59 percent.”

I then e-mailed the South Bend Community Schools to ask about the discrepancy and was answered by John Ritzler, Director of Research and Evaluation. He told me graduation rates depend upon the formula used to calculate them, and that graduation rates for South Bend are comparable to other schools in the area and the state average when the same formula is used for each school.

The state is changing the method used to calculate graduation rates. The new formula tracks the progress of individual students once they enter school, rather than the percentage of seniors who graduate. The state estimates Indiana will have a 71% graduation rate when calculated by the new method.

Taken together, these numbers reveal that you shouldn’t rely too much on any one source or statistic. The best way to learn about a school is still to visit it and talk with the teachers and administration. Statistics are useful, but they can be misleading and they can miss the point. A personal visit to a school will tell you more about it than all the numbers you can find on the Web.

For further information on South Bend schools, including maps and homepages, visit

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