The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local Education

May 29, 2011

Scott Underwood: Grad rate research dug deep

ANDERSON, Ind. — Sometimes a statistic or fact, when it’s first revealed, seems so outrageous that it demands deeper inspection. That’s how we at The Herald Bulletin reacted when we first saw the 2010 high school graduation rate for black male students at Anderson Community Schools.

39 percent. … 39 percent! … How could that be?

Several months later, after hundreds of hours of research and writing, our initial reaction turned into the six-page special report published Sunday in The Herald Bulletin. (Most of that report can now be found on our website, www.theheraldbulletin.com.)

Six pages seem like a lot to devote to any single topic in a daily community newspaper. But the deeper we delved into this issue, the more we realized how important it was. The more questions we answered, the more questions arose.

Did the low graduation rate reflect more of a gender difference than a cultural difference?

How would the new criticism of social promotion — the practice of passing kids along to the next grade even when they haven’t mastered the academic matter — affect ACS’s graduation rates?

What are Muncie and Kokomo schools doing to achieve graduation rates for black male students more than twice as high as Anderson’s?

How important is early childhood education in determining who eventually graduates from high school?

This last question led us to the concept for John Cleary’s photo that appeared on Sunday’s front page. We had the idea of snapping a shot of elementary kids with the headline “Future graduates?” to seek a more emotional reaction from readers to the issue. It’s hard to stomach the fact that, if current averages prevail, more than half of a group of 10 small children won’t eventually graduate from high school.

Reporter Abbey Doyle interviewed each of the kids to provide insight into their attitudes toward education and their hopes for the future. Abbey also wrote the lead article and most of the sidebars and did the lion’s share of research for the graphics included in the special report. She talked to dozens of sources and assimilated a head-spinning volume of data into a great example of thoughtful journalism.

Reporter Sam Brattain gave an important assist, writing four profiles that demonstrated the commitment needed to graduate — and the potential ramifications of failing to get that degree.

Page designer Patrick Caldwell, himself an Anderson High School graduate, pulled all of the elements of the special report together nicely in the pages of the Sunday special report. One of his greatest challenges, I’m sure, was working with a particularly picky editor!

We hope you read Sunday’s report and that it induced you to think deeply about the community’s responsibility of providing the best educational opportunities to all students, regardless of gender and skin color.

A new class of Anderson High School students will graduate Thursday, and the state will release statistics about that class in several months. Those statistics, we believe, will show improvement. And we hope that Sunday’s special report will instill a sense of urgency for a continued march toward a 100 percent graduation rate at ACS.

Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. Contact him at scott.underwood@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4845.

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