Over the past two years, the Buckeye State has been at the forefront in the competition for creating and expanding businesses and the jobs that go with growth. According to the Dayton Daily News JobsOhio – Governor Kasich’s public-private job-creation initiative -- has provided “assistance to 400 companies investing or expanding in the state, 31,300 new job commitments and $6.1 billion in capital investment.”

The energy, passion, and focus JobsOhio has applied to recruiting and developing businesses needs to be replicated in education through a similar program -- EducateOhio perhaps? The Buckeye State needs a strategy, and the supporting resources, to become a state where top education talent wants to invest time and energy and build high quality schools and education programs. Other states have already moved in this direction, and more are joining fast.

For example, last week I spent time with leaders from top reform states and cities as part of the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) annual conference. The 75 or so CEE-Trust participants learned about the efforts of cities like New Orleans, Indianapolis, Nashville, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee to recruit top education talent to their locales from across the country and to help available talent do more through things like charter school replication. The competition is friendly but fierce. Top school operators and educators are being poached by communities hungry for better schools.

Increasingly schools are seen as pivotal to economic development and states and cities are moving fast to differentiate themselves from others by recruiting and developing top school models and top talent. In Louisiana, for example, state superintendent John White recently sent a personal letter to every high quality non-profit Charter Management Organization (CMO) in the country inviting them to the Bayou State and offering assistance in finding facilities, board members, talent, and resources. The mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean, has personally traveled across the country visiting high performing charter schools, and as a result his office has helped to launch the Tennessee Charter School Incubator (TCSI). TCSI actively seeks out “experienced school leaders to transform Tennessee’s lowest performing schools into high-performing, college-preparatory charter schools and management organizations.”

Ohio is behind in the competition for both school reform talent and in scaling out clusters of great schools. But, we have strengths to build on.

Mayor Dean says “almost every mayor in the country thinks education is the number one issue. This is a lot like economic development, where you are trying to persuade companies to come to you.” For his part, he has “encouraged KIPP to expand in our community.” He has helped them raise money, provided school facilities, and personally encouraged the expansion of teacher talent pipelines like Teach For America and The New Teacher Project that are a key to high-quality charter school growth in his city. And his support and encouragement has drawn much private sector support to the cause of school reform in Nashville, while also making it easier for top-flight charters to attract quality board members to their schools.

Ohio is behind in the competition for both school reform talent and in scaling out clusters of great schools. But, we have strengths to build on. First, after years of effort Teach For America (TFA) finally has a presence in Ohio with corps members now teaching in schools in southwestern Ohio and in Cleveland. Having a TFA presence in the Buckeye State is a big step in creating a pipeline of bright, education-oriented reformers who can launch and lead not only great new schools but various school reform support organizations. Second, cities like Cleveland and Columbus are beginning to appreciate the value of a portfolio approach to public schools by funding and overseeing, to some degree, all schools – be they district or charter – under one umbrella. This emulates the good work being done in places like New Orleans and Nashville. 

Thirdly, Ohio has some high-performing charter school models that are growing and poised to grow faster in the future if they are nurtured and supported. These models include the Dayton Early College Academy in Dayton, KIPP and Columbus Collegiate Academies in Columbus, and Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland. These school models are delivering high academic achievement. Yet, they are also in the middle of the national competition for talent. Not only are they working to recruit top school leaders and teachers from across the country to their cities and schools, but others are trying to recruit their best people to their states and communities.

Just like the competition for business, Ohio is in a struggle to recruit, develop, and nurture top K-12 educators and school models. To compete effectively over the long-haul we need a statewide strategy. It is time for the Buckeye State to launch a nonprofit “EducateOhio” that is committed to making Ohio a leader in supporting and growing top flight charter and district schools and the talented individuals needed to support them.

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