Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

April 5, 2012

Officials question some county rankings

GOSHEN — A new statistical report was released this week by Ball State University showing Elkhart County performing particularly poorly in the areas of education and the economy. Following release of the report, several local officials Wednesday shared their opinions on how they feel about the accuracy of the report and its possible affects on the county down the line.

The report, dubbed the Indiana Community Asset Inventory and Rankings 2012, was compiled by Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research using publicly available data, including school test scores and crime rates. By using that compiled data, the report essentially ranked each of Indiana’s 92 counties on a scale of A to F in seven key areas: People; Human Capital: Education; Human Capital: Health; Government Impact and Economy; Public Amenities: Changeable; Public Amenities: Static; and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation.

While the county ranked high in several areas, such as an A in Health and a B in Arts and Entertainment, the county received a D in the area of Government Impact and Economy and a D+ in Education.

So what do these low rankings mean for Elkhart County?

According to Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, issues with education in Elkhart County have been a topic of concern for the past 10 to 20 years, though he warned that statistical reports such as the Ball State report often don’t reflect the whole story.

Within the report, Elkhart County’s low ranking in education was based on factors such as low percentages of students passing the English and math sections of the ISTEP test, as well as a low percentage of students graduating from high school and going on to attain higher degrees.

“As far as the education ranking, we’ve known for at least the last decade in this community that we need better graduation rates, and more kids graduating and going on and acquiring higher degrees, whether that’s a two year degree, some sort of technical certification, or a four year degree,” Yoder said. “So that’s all old news for us.”

No stranger to the education debate, Yoder has played an integral part in getting the ball rolling on the county’s new Horizon Education Alliance. Made up of a committee of local political, education and business leaders, the alliance seeks to transform the future education and economic landscapes of Elkhart County by both encouraging more early education opportunities for kids while at the same time creating a school culture where high school graduation, secondary education and even post-secondary education are the norm, rather than the exception.

“With the Horizon Education Alliance, we’re targeting this exactly,” Yoder said. “For the first time in a decade, this alliance is providing us with some promise of actually getting something done.”

Dan Boecher, past chairman of the Horizon committee, was quick to agree.

“Currently Indiana as a state lags the nation in most metrics of educational attainment, and Elkhart County lags the state,” Boecher said. “This is something we’ve understood for quite some time, and we certainly knew that we had room to improve. Through our work with the Horizon project, we’ve learned just how critical quality education is for all of our residents, and I think this report points to that sense of urgency.”

As for the low grade in Government Impact and Economy, Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said while she has much respect for the accuracy of Ball State’s researchers, she isn’t so sure their findings accurately reflect Elkhart County’s true economic landscape.

“We received a D for Government Impact and Economy, and I would question that,” Heiden-Guss said. “The reason I would question that is primarily because we have made such significant strides and been recognized nationally for our job growth creation, especially after the national economic crisis we’ve been in since 2008.”

David Daugherty, president of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce, also seemed a bit taken aback by the low ranking of the county’s economy. That said, Daugherty noted that whenever you’re dealing with a ranking based solely on statistics, there is almost always going to be some disparity from what the statistics show and what actually is occurring on the ground.

“It’s a way to begin looking at things, but you’ve also got to take it all with a grain of salt,” Daugherty said. “I think for most people who use data like that, it’s a starting point, but typically they’re going to need to dig deeper to really find the real answers, and when you do that for Goshen and Elkhart County as a whole, I think it will turn out pretty good.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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