A new class

What would you do if you learned that more than 20 percent of your annual expenses were not giving you a return on investment?

The State of Ohio is calling upon business leaders to help out with exactly that situation. A national study several years ago determined that despite the money invested in primary, secondary and other education in the state — $6.6 billion in fiscal year 2000 — Ohio’s schools weren’t measuring up.

By the end of this month, the state’s Board of Education is expected to have adopted new content standards for mathematics and English language arts as ordered in the Senate Bill 1 education reform provisions.

To ensure those standards get enacted and the results are measured, Ohio Business Roundtable partnered with Battelle to form Battelle for Kids with the goal of making Ohio’s public schools the most improved in the nation by 2006.

“I would say there’s no issue of greater importance, greater relevance, for the future of our economy and competitiveness as well as the social vitality of our state than the quality of our education system,” says Richard Stoff, president of Ohio Business Roundtable, an independent, nonpartisan organization of CEOs from major Ohio companies including American Electric Power, Nationwide, Cardinal Health, BFGoodrich, Hoover, KeyCorp and Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. “I would like to think education is to business as fertilizer is to farming. It’s the feeder, and it’s absolutely essential that we have quality in education in our state.”

Senate Bill 1, Stoff explains, makes law out of recommendations of the Governor’s Commission for Student Success, which proposed a system to clarify expectations for students, measure progress, provide resources and interventions for students and establish a shared responsibility for student success.

“What Battelle for Kids intends to do is ensure that the necessary things get implemented to give assurance that kids will, in fact, get the education they need,” says Doug Olesen, retiring president and CEO of Battelle.

Jim Mahoney, Battelle for Kids executive director, says the organization will make sure the public, parents and teachers are well aware of the new standards; develop a Web-based system to measure the progress of education improvement; and ensure that educators and school administrators receive the professional development they need to help the state’s education system improve.

“I go back to a phrase I heard many years ago,” Mahoney says, “that educating everyone takes everyone, and that’s what I truly believe.”

So why should business play a role?

“When you start thinking about your labor force in the future,” Mahoney points out, “you want people who know something and can do something.”

Already, Stoff says, Battelle for Kids and other business organizations hosted the Education Reform Institute, a two-day session aimed at making sure businesses understand the standards-based reform initiatives.

“It’s our judgment that if the business community is to be an effective advocate for higher standards and systemic reform and the like, then it’s incumbent on us to understand the education agenda and what reform is and what it’s not,” he says.

Training will continue for the approximately 200 business leaders who attended, and the institute likely will be repeated.

On a more grassroots level, Stoff suggests business executives help the effort by offering the expertise they have from running their own companies — management and leadership.

“In that regard, one of the greatest investments business leaders can make in any school is to work with the school leader. We know from our own life experiences, whether we’re working in public policy and education or whether it’s just as a byproduct of our having gone to public schools, we know the difference a good principal makes in any school,” Stoff says. “I’d suggest that if business people focus anywhere, it is to help their school principals be more effective school leaders.”

Mahoney points out that business leaders also must stay aware of what’s going on in the area of education reform and what progress is being made toward improvement.

“Employers have a right to ask,” Mahoney says, “‘if you get a high school diploma, what’s it mean that you know?'”

How to reach: Jim Mahoney, Battelle for Kids, (614) 469-5966; Richard Stoff, Ohio Business Roundtable, (614) 469-1044