Here’s the thing about statistics: If they aren’t rock solid, if they don’t reflect reality, they’re of little use to anyone. And if conflicting statistics are passed off to measure performance levels, they just waste our time even more.
So it goes with two very different readings of the graduation rate in Chicago public schools. According to stats for 2004 issued by the Illinois State Board of Education, 70.7 percent of students graduate in four years. But after examining the slippery methods used to arrive at that number — including not counting transfer students who drop out of their new schools — the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research concluded it was way too high. By their accounting, the graduation rate is only 54 percent — a woeful 39 percent for black male students.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan downplayed the discrepancy, saying the studies, taken together, reflect some improvement and a dramatic need for more of it. But it’s an infuriating gap that leaves those who are trying to get a fix on this crucial problem grasping at straws. If, in fact, the 54 percent is accurate, the situation is more dire than anyone thought.
If it isn’t, we need to know what is accurate. Too much is at stake to keep playing this numbers game.