A Private Sector Commitment to Lowering the School Drop-Out Rates

Posted on January 1, 2010
by FeliciaOctocog

A Five Step Approach

I recently attended two symposia – one on non-profit management at Stanford Business School’s Institute of Social Innovation and the other on urban education put on by the Institute of Urban Education at the University of Chicago. At these talks, there was a lot of discussion around change. How do you effect change when the problems seem so intractable?

From these lectures, I can summarize this 5-step process:

  1. Name the enemy
  2. Find the bright spots – no matter how dismal the statistics, don’t get lost in the numbers and find where change has already happened at find out why
  3. Involve all sectors in the solution to the problem, including, and especially business
  4. Find new “cool” and innovate ways to mobilize people around change
  5. Engage in small achievable steps as you build a movement,

I took these principles and applied them to support business’s enhanced role in education.

1.  Name the enemy – High school drop out rates, 11,000 high school students drop out each year in the state. In Salem in 2007, 35 students dropped out. (11%) For four classes of high school students that translates into 140 students.

2. Find the bright spots – There are many youth in this city (and others) that transcend poverty, bad family situations, and not only dysfunctional or abusive families but, on a greater scale, families where this is a serious lack of focus on education, but they still go on to graduate college. Many of us working with youth in this city can tell you uplifting stories of such youth. Most of  these youth who manage to beat all odds, were able to do so, because of the presence of social capital in their lives. Social capital is a youth’s social network of people within the community that can increase the student’s productivity and probability of success. Social capital can come in the form of a teacher, coach, minister/priest or rabbi, foster parent a mentor, tutor or employer. And employer.  Many students, who are at-risk academically, do not find social capital in the schools.  Teachers and guidance counselors simply have too many students and not enough time to spend with each. It can, and does happen, but not for enough youth.  Because these students are not failing and are not behavioral problems they are able to fly under the radar, never being pushed, and sadly never understanding or believing in their own potential for improvement.

As a community, how do we build this social capital for kids? We know it works, we see it every day. We as adults and particularly, we as business people, need to become social capital to these children who are most at risk for dropping out, and never going to college. Each of these students who drop out can cost us taxpayers $400,000 per year in social costs, incarceration, and lost tax revenues.  These students are not prepared to apply for the 60% or more jobs in this state that require at least an associates degree.

3. Involve all sectors: Certainly government and the non-profit sector are highly vested in solving these problems.  However, where is the business sector in all this? Last summer, with records amount of dollars available for teen hiring, over 90% of the jobs were placed within the non-profit and government sector. Only 10% of the teen jobs were place in the private sector. Last summer (2009) the number of employed teens dropped to an all time low and, in fact, teen employment even dropped during the 1990’s boom. The business community has got to do better. We, as business people and as concerned adults, are in a unique position to make a huge contribution in ways no government or non-profit can.

The business community must consider where our future labor pools are coming from. If we want to attract biotech, high tech, healthcare, legal, financial or creative jobs into this region, we need an educated workforce. Studies show that students who have social capital and students who work as teenagers do better in school and therefore, are more likely to graduate go on to college and earn high wages.

4. Cool Ways To Mobilize – let’s take a chapter from the Teach for America book.  Can we establish a national network of small businesses who embrace teen employees in a new way? The type of job the teen is given is almost secondary to the engagement of supportive adults who surround that teen while at work.  These adults engage the youth in conversation about current events or even personal issues. These adults ask the child about tests, report cards, papers, offering to stay late one night to tutor, or edit a paper. Perhaps that adult can help the student navigate college and/or career choices. So many of our teens are trapped in low-end jobs where their supervisors are other teens not much older than they (think of supermarkets or fast-food).  We can do better. One teen, one day a week, for one year. Call it our 1- 1- 1 plan.

5. Small achievable steps. Let us start in our small cities of Salem, Peabody and Beverly. 10 businesses engaged with 10 youth in one year.  If we succeed, we add 10 more the following year. We gather our results, both quantitative and qualitative and then plan for a wider roll-out.

What do you say? Log onto www.salemcyberspace.org and sign up if you are interested in learning more.