- “In the nation’s 50 largest cities, the graduation rate [in four years] was 52%.”
- The graduation rate was as low as 25% in Detroit.
- “Only about seven in 10 students are actually finishing high school.”
- “Dropouts are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, including about 75% of state prison inmates.”
- “The difference in lifetime salary for a dropout and a high school graduate is about $300,000.”
- Cutting the number of dropouts in half would generate $45 billion annually in new tax revenue.”
So obviously there is a very compelling case for reducing the high school dropout rate and having students graduate!
What is being done to address this issue?
One new program was started in the city of Houston called “Reach Out to Dropouts.” In Reach Out, “volunteers, including Mayor White and school superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, visit the homes of students who haven’t returned to school.”
How did this start?
The mayor “was troubled by the fact that while the private industry could track inventory world-wide, school systems could not track students.” But then he took this further, by reaching out to students in person, and finding out why they quit, and how the city could help them return (for example, money, childcare, tutoring and so on).
What are the results?
“Reach Out has recaptured more than 5,500 dropouts in the city since it started in 2004.”
One student summarized it this way: “They were saying I was so smart and they didn’t know why I wasn’t in school, that I was too smart to just drop out. It got to me, kind of.”
This is powerful stuff!
To me there are some profound lessons here for the Total CIO:
First is the personal touch. The CIO’s job is providing information technology solutions for the business and this is great. However, IT is not a replacement for having a personal touch with people. Technology solutions need to complement people solutions.
In the case of the Reach Out program, it’s not enough for our schools to track students like inventory or assets using attendance systems, but we need then take the tracking information and apply it with people and process to get in there and actually help the students come back and graduate. The technology along can’t do this; only people can!
In general, IT solutions must follow people’s requirements and process improvements. You cannot build IT solutions for yesterday’s process (sending letters home or calling the truancy officer); you must build it for today and tomorrow’s way of doing business (personally finding out what the problem is and then remediating it). The bottom line is that the CIO has to be forward-thinking rather than reactive: Implementing technology solutions and then modifying or customizing it to mimic existing processes is not the answer. Rather, the CIO needs to work with the business to modernizing the process and then apply the appropriate technology as an enabler for enhanced results.
With the Reach Out program to help students graduate, the City of Houston didn’t just track the dropouts, but they looked at what was being done to solve the problem and bring kids back into the education system. If sending letters home to parents wasn’t working, for example, then perhaps getting out from behind the desk and going to the student’s homes would. Through this new way of “doing business,” the educators and politicians are showing genuine care and concern, and tailoring solutions to the needs of individual students—and it is working!
The personal touch with people, and reengineering process to match what they need, is crucial for solving problems and implementing technology solutions.