A report by the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research does not give a positive rating of Elkhart County’s economy and education systems. While Elkhart County is not a perfect community, we believe the D+ grade for education and a D for the economy don’t reflect the reality in our communities.
This report is certainly disheartening, mostly because we think Elkhart County is a wonderful place to live, raise children, work and retire and we want others — even bean counters at universities — to like us too. But when they don’t embrace our community with the same strong hug we do, we should at least consider why.
The report uses economic data from a variety of sources. And as data is dated as soon as it is compiled, we guess that economic data reflects how the recession and slow recovery has shrunk our county’s economic output.
As far as the education data goes, the ranking was based on school test scores and graduation rates from high schools and colleges. For many years we have cautioned that using test scores to judge educational opportunities is full of inaccuracies.
Just looking at test scores for Elkhart County schools would not reveal that Goshen schools have a large number of students who speak English as their second language and also have limited skills in reading English. Those scores would also not reveal that Elkhart schools have many students who are economically disadvantaged.
Those scores would also not tell anyone that hundreds of Elkhart County students go on to successful college careers and then enter the highest levels of all types of professions.
But the report has been useful in one respect — it has county residents talking about the economy and education. We think this discussion can be a positive influence in ongoing efforts to improve both the county’s economy and educational opportunities.
A massive, countywide effort to doctor-up our numbers to improve next year’s grades on the report should not be undertaken by any means. Yet, those people and organizations already working on improvements should consider if these grades have any merit and if they should be considered in planning already under way. We are specifically thinking of the Elkhart County Education Alliance, which is forming to expand early childhood education and career planning for high school students.
Other than that, the report is interesting reading.