Education needs the same know-how as retooling the economy

The Ohio Grantmakers Forum recently hosted a conversation between Lt. Governor Lee Fisher and leaders in Ohio's philanthropic community on growing the state's economy.

Fisher also wears the hat of Director of Development and as such is the state's leader in the effort to retain, attract, and create jobs in Ohio. He aptly addressed Ohio's pressing need to deal with its shrinking manufacturing economy, urging that the state embrace innovation and opportunity in high-growth sectors like health care, nanotechnology, computer technologies, and alternative energy. Fisher made clear that manufacturing still matters and that it's vital to keep auto manufacturing and other traditional industries working here even if they aren't growing industries. But, more importantly, the future means helping new businesses grow and attracting emerging industries to the Buckeye State. According to Fisher, Ohio is engaged in an "economic development arms race" with other states and nations for about 400 projects worth approximately $16 to $20 billion.

To snag its fair share, the lieutenant governor said, Ohio must entice new businesses with financial incentives, friendly tax policies, top-notch educational and scientific resources, and talent. These are all areas in which, he said, the Strickland administration is being proactive. Fisher has even created a Rapid Outreach Response team to create a sense of urgency in state government while encouraging collaboration across state agencies.

The lieutenant governor deserves kudos for his dogged efforts at improving Ohio's economic competitiveness. But, it must be noted, this same type of energy, passion, and progressive thinking has been lacking in the new administration's education agenda. This, despite the fact that the powerful economic forces acting on Ohio require more from the state's education sector if Ohio's citizens are to benefit from this change (see here). Education in Ohio can ill-afford to remain stagnant. If Ohio wants to see its education system flourish and meet the needs of its young people, the state must apply the same innovative ideas for economic growth to education.

Many farsighted states and cities are already making this transition and are redefining what is possible in education. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is working to make New York City the "Silicon Valley of education entrepreneurs." The mayor's office in Indianapolis has created and raised several million dollars for The Mind Trust to aggressively attract, support, and empower the nation's most effective and promising educational entrepreneurs to work there. Chicago, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Delaware - are making similar efforts to recruit the most successful educational organizations and to help their successful homegrown groups develop and expand.

In Columbus, a broad network of civic, business, philanthropic, and education leaders came together to recruit the first KIPP school to the state. And what is KIPP (and other high performing school models) seeking from new expansion sites? The same things that successful businesses are looking for: a welcoming community, private and public financial support, regulatory space for innovation (the charter law), and a talent pipeline to supply school leaders and teachers.

As we work to build a 21st century economy in Ohio, we would be wise to cross pollinate Lt. Governor Fisher's ideas and policy efforts on economic development with our school- improvement efforts. The State Board of Education seems to be heading in this direction-in June it approved a new Subcommittee for Education in the New Global Economy.

Ohio's public education needs as much retooling and redesigning as the state's economy, and strong leadership from the top would surely pay big dividends.

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