Business Leadership to Build a Better Ohio

Education & Workforce 

Early Learning

The foundation for academic and work success is established early - long before children enter the classroom. Extensive research confirms that kids who start off right -with a nurturing home environment, access to quality pre-kindergarten, adequate healthcare and good nutrition - are far more likely to succeed in school and become productive members of society.

In December of 2010, the BRT published The Talent Challenge 2: Ensuring Kindergarten Readiness by 2020, which challenged Ohio policymakers to commit to a bold new goal: By 2020, ensure that 90 percent of Ohio children entering school will be ready to succeed in kindergarten. (Currently nearly 60 percent of Ohio children enter kindergarten lacking readiness to succeed.) Under the leadership of Owens-Illinois CEO Al Stroucken and Crane Group CEO Tanny Crane,the BRT has been working to achieve three foundational policy changes to move Ohio toward the kindergarten readiness goal:

  • Establish new leadership for early learning in Ohio. In October 2011, Governor John Kasich issued an Executive Order creating an Early Education and Development Officer within the Office of the Governor - with accountability to oversee early learning services and improve kindergarten readiness results in Ohio.
  • Adopt a new, comprehensive kindergarten readiness assessment. With the BRT's leadership, the State of Ohio is partnering with the State of Maryland to develop and implement a new, comprehensive kindergarten readiness assessment. A baseline assessment is scheduled to be administered in the fall of 2013.
  • Invest in quality home visiting and pre-K for at-risk children. The BRT successfully advocated to preserve funding for early learning services for at-risk children in the state's FY 2012-2013 biennial budget.  In addition, through the leadership of BRT member Jeff Wadsworth, CEO of Battelle, and his proposal management team, Ohio developed a winning application for the
    federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant competition. The state's $70 million award will support increased access to high-quality early learning services for 37,000 additional high-needs children. 

K-12 Education

The BRT's efforts in K-12 education reform began in the early 1990s with the creation of what was then the broadest and deepest education coalition ever formed in Ohio: Ohio's BEST (Building Excellent Schools for Today and the 21st Century). Co-chaired by Bob Wehling of Procter & Gamble and then-Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Ted Sanders, BEST included representatives from business organizations and individual companies, organized labor, philanthropic organizations, community groups and the education community. During a six-year run, the BEST coalition worked to establish Ohio's first comprehensive K-12 education reform agenda, which became the precursor to standards-based reforms enacted during Governor Bob Taft's Administration.

Preceding introduction of Ohio's standards-based reform legislation, the BRT provided strong advocacy leadership for Senate Bill 55 in 1997. This bill contained school improvement and academic accountability initiatives such as increasing the rigor of Ohio's high school exit exams and graduation requirements; creating a "Fourth Grade Reading Guarantee" and other academic remediation measures; requiring the Ohio Department of Education to issue annual "report cards" to each school district in the state; and establishing minimum standards for school district performance.

Thus began a six-year march toward real standards-based reform - clear and rigorous standards by grade level and subject matter; an aligned system of assessments; strengthened accountability measures with consequences and incentives for improved performance; interventions for low-performing students; and, above all, capacity building to assist educators in teaching to higher standards. BRT leadership and advocacy were critical to the success of these systemic reforms.

Additionally, recognizing the powerful role that can be played by school principals as instructional leaders, the BRT in 1999 organized an effort with the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio's school principals associations to establish an Ohio Principals Leadership Academy housed on The Ohio State University campus.

In 2001, the BRT and Battelle collaborated to form Battelle for Kids (B4K) - a 501(c)(3) focused on improving student academic achievement. Today, B4K is "ground zero" in Ohio and across the nation for "value-added" assessment and analysis. B4K's capacity building and educator professional development tools are recognized nationally and globally as best-in-class.

The first decade of the new century also saw the Roundtable expand its education agenda to include strengthening STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education) in Ohio and maximizing higher education's potential for creating more and better jobs, increasing economic competitiveness and fueling economic growth. (See detailed discussion of both areas below.)

Currently, the BRT is working with Governor John Kasich to help lay the groundwork for a bold new set of statewide reforms the Governor will be proposing as part of his FY 2013-14 state biennial budget. At the beginning of 2012, the Governor signaled his intention to seek major improvements in education during the budget process in 2013. Targeted outcomes for the coming reforms include the following:

  • Dramatically improved kindergarten readiness
  • Top 5 status for Ohio students' performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
  • Significantly higher high school graduation rates (and lower dropout rates)
  • College and workforce readiness upon graduation from high school
  • Remediation-free upon entering college

In response, and under the leadership of BRT Executive Committee Member Frank Sullivan, the Roundtable began an immediate exploration of how it might best assist and support the Governor in this effort.

At the outset, we rejected "more of the same" approaches that have been employed in the past, on the basis that they failed to provide the kind of accelerated change we believe is necessary.
Instead, we focused on tackling two major barriers to needed education improvement:

  • How do we overcome the widely held prejudice that poorer kids, largely in the inner cities and Appalachia, are so culturally and economically deprived that they can't learn at higher levels?
  • How do we overcome the apparent complacency of Ohioans who continue to rate their schools as adequate by margins of 60 to 65 percent, despite test scores which suggest we are way behind educational attainment in other industrialized nations?  And how do we persuade parents that even the best schools in Ohio remain far short of where they need to be if their graduates are to be able to compete?

We determined that existing argumentation on these subjects lacked needed depth. And so we set out to do a deep dive into both questions in an attempt to produce breakthrough thinking that the BRT can use to support the Governor's efforts.

First, employing Race to the Top funding from the Ohio Department of Education and with strong support from The Ohio State University, we engaged Public Agenda, a top-of-class education research firm, to do on-site research at nine Ohio public schools that are among the leading schools in the state, obtaining superior results despite working with high-poverty student populations. The schools included three elementary schools, three junior high schools and three high schools, located throughout the state. One was a public charter high school.

Technique included extensive interviews of students, teachers, parents, principals,school board members, business leaders and local public officials in each school community. The research, conducted over a period of five months in the spring and early summer, produced two incontrovertible results:

  • All of the schools studied had all of the same "problems" that are all too commonly used to excuse poor performance in failing schools. These can be summarized as high poverty,presence of teachers unions (with one exception), not enough money, parents who don't care and don't help, and kids who entered school insufficiently prepared to learn. But in successful schools, these are seen as problems to be overcome rather than as barriers to success.
  • The consistent difference that marked these schools is that leaders took the firm position: Failure is not an option. Teachers, parents and others all cited over and over examples of strong leadership as being keys to success. Not arcane, education-oriented, subject matter leadership, but real world leadership of the kind exercised in business and the military.

The bottom-line learning from the Public Agenda research: Right here, right now in Ohio, poor kids are gaining superior educations with the same money, the same teachers, the same unions, and the same parents that justify failure in other schools. The difference is strong leadership - and a culture that "eats strategy for lunch."

The findings provide a strong platform for a campaign to wipe the notion that "some kids can't learn" from the Ohio educational vocabulary, and to focus improvement efforts on leadership that makes the difference.

BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools

The BRT's effort to focus education improvement efforts in Ohio on "leadership that makes a difference" is most powerfully illustrated in the BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools initiative. Growing out of the Public Agenda research cited above, the BRT created BRIGHT in partnership with Ohio Department of Education and Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University.

A nonprofit, 501(c)(3) public-private partnership, BRIGHT is a bold new effort to recruit, train and place exceptional, committed leaders to head high-poverty public schools across Ohio. As evidence of Ohio's commitment to this innovative new approach to principal leadership development, oversight is provided by the Governor, Senate President, Speaker of the House and the BRT. The Ohio legislature has funded BRIGHT with state dollars and the BRT, through its member companies, has contributed significant private funding.

BRIGHT is based on the dual premises that successful leaders beget successful schools, and that leadership skills are transferrable across occupations. With that maxim in mind, BRIGHT is a "disruptive innovation" that will enable extraordinary individuals from all walks of life and career stages to spend a year as a BRIGHT Fellow, building upon their skills and passion to drive change, and then immediately assume building leadership in a high-poverty public school in our state where we need the best and the brightest leaders the most.

Reflecting this approach, the first cohort of BRIGHT Fellows includes professionals from education, business, military, government, philanthropy and nonprofits. BRIGHT seeks proven leaders with the demonstrated ability to:

  • Inspire others to fulfill their true potential;
  • Gain people's trust and commitment to follow their leadership vision;
  • Make tough decisions and take action in complex situations;
  • Build and lead a high-performance team; and
  • Lead change by encouraging diversity, fostering innovation and maintaining a high tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity and risk.

Above all, BRIGHT seeks individuals with uncompromising ethical standards, a deep belief in the potential of all children to succeed and the personal passion to help them achieve a brighter future.

Gaining admission to the BRIGHT program is a highly selective process. Only those candidates who demonstrate true potential to serve as extraordinary school leaders advance through the process. BRIGHT Fellows are placed in a full-time, 10-month immersion experience at a high-poverty Ohio school where they are mentored, coached, advised and assessed by the School District. Fellows receive a rich portfolio of ongoing professional development, mentorship from an accomplished school principal, hands-on coaching from other experienced former principals, and are assigned a business mentor from the Ohio Business Roundtable.

Concurrent with the in-school placement, Fellows earn an MBA from the top-ranked Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. The curriculum is highly customized to complement the education context and courses are taught by leading faculty from both the Fisher College of Business and the OSU's College of Education and Human Ecology. In addition to intensive MBA coursework, the MBA program also includes colloquia experiences and, courtesy of the BRT, periodic adaptive leadership workshops conducted by Dr. Ronald Heifetz, Founding Director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

In addition to their Fisher College scholarships, Fellows receive room and board while they are on campus, all course materials and a tablet. The BRT also has arranged a monthly living stipend for Fellows.

When Fellows have completed the school placement and degree requirements, they will be fully licensed by the State of Ohio to serve as a school principal. To complete their responsibilities under the Fellowship, Fellows are required to serve at least three years as a principal of a high-poverty school in Ohio.

The effort to recruit the inaugural cohort of BRIGHT Fellow candidates attracted more than 800 applicants from throughout Ohio and across the country. As of July 2016, 32 individuals are on schedule to complete the BRIGHT Fellowship and MBA requirements, earning an MBA and receiving fast-track certification to serve as a school principal in Ohio. As of July 1, 2016, 23 members of the first cohort already have secured positions as school leaders in high-poverty schools in Ohio.

The selection process for the second cohort of BRIGHT Fellows was completed in the Spring of 2016. Orientation for the second cohort will begin in December 2016.

Higher Education

Working through its affiliate, the Ohio Business Alliance for Higher Education & the Economy (BAHEE), the BRT continues to collaborate with the Governor, legislative leaders, K-12 and higher education leaders, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to change the dialogue in Ohio from a conversation about college access to a conversation about college access plus college "completion." This work is being undertaken in response to these realities:

  • The majority of Ohio's job openings today and projected into the future will require some postsecondary education.
  • Ohio is not producing enough individuals with college degrees and certificates to meet future employer and job demands.
  • The current mix of degrees and certificates in Ohio is not aligned with current business needs.
  • Wide variations exist in completion rates across and within all sectors of Ohio's higher education system.
  • Ohio has serious disparities in educational attainment and college completion by gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
  • Higher levels of educational attainment yield substantial economic and noneconomic benefits. 

The BRT's "college completion" work recognizes that responding to these realities is at the heart a matter of economic competitiveness for our state and economic opportunity for our citizens. For that reason, the BRT has prepared and shared a compelling fact base and case for change; identified six levers to close the college completion gap in Ohio; and has engaged CEOs in aggressively advocating for proven and promising practices that will significantly increase the number and percentage of Ohioans with a college degree or some other credential of value in the marketplace. The BRT's aspirational goal for this work is nothing less than Ohio having the highest college completion rates in the nation by 2020.

STEM Education

The Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN) has its origins in two entities - Battelle and the Ohio Business Roundtable - that joined hands with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the State of Ohio and dozens of other partners and stakeholders to create the nation's first-ever statewide network for STEM education.

In the summer of 2006, Battelle, in partnership with The Ohio State University and KnowledgeWorks, opened Ohio's first STEM School - Metro Early College High School (Metro) in Columbus, a bold and imaginative design which set the standard for STEM programs, both herein Ohio and nationally.

Just as Battelle was opening the Metro School in Columbus, the Ohio Business Roundtable, motivated by the unmistakable connection between STEM literacy, innovation and economic competitiveness, was launching an aggressive statewide advocacy campaign to double the number of STEM baccalaureate degrees in Ohio in ten years time.

To a large degree, business leaders saw this as a "supply chain" challenge - get more kids in K-12 interested in math and science and college-ready upon graduating high school. So the Roundtable went to work, activating its Business Alliance for Higher Education and the Economy (BAHEE) affiliate and assembling a broad-based coalition, Tapping Ohio's Potential, to work with policy leaders in enacting in late 2006 the Ohio Core legislation, requiring students to complete a rigorous core curriculum to graduate, including four years each of math and English, three years each of lab-based science and social studies. The message: academic rigor is the building block for college success in the STEM disciplines.

While many plainly understood the Ohio Core as an enabler for college success, still many others remained skeptical about STEM itself, especially members of the legislature, raising such basic questions about what it is, who it's for and how it works. Their refrain: "Show me." So, in March 2006, BAHEE and the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES) organized a STEM Learning Tour to show them.

The tour took key legislative leaders to four of the "best" STEM schools in the country, starting here at home at the Metro School and then on to McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the Denver School of Science & Technology and, on a virtual basis, High Tech High in San Diego. The objective was simple: Demystify STEM.

When members of the Ohio delegation returned to Columbus they wanted all to see what they saw, and so capturing the faces of the tour into a "View Book", a copy of the STEM View Book was placed in front of every member of the Ohio General Assembly with the message "Welcome to a quick tour of some of the most successful schools in America. Once you have stepped inside, you'll see why they work." This was the turning point for building widespread public support for STEM and the dawn of the OSLN.

Inspired by Ohio's progress, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation approached the Roundtable to begin thinking even more systemically about ramping up STEM to reach more students and more educators and more businesses in all parts of the state. So the Roundtable turned to the best "systems engineers" it knew - Battelle, and together, with BAHEE and TIES, we co-created a design for a sophisticated,yet elegantly simple network of STEM hubs, hosts, platform schools and programs to infuse STEM literacy and "knowledge capture and dissemination" in every part of this diverse state. Anchored by the design principles benchmarked from the best-in-class schools we visited on the STEM Learning Tour, the initial OSLN proposal was awarded a $12 million grant from the Gates Foundation.

But, from the beginning this was intended as a bold public-private partnership that would leverage a significant investment of public dollars from the State of Ohio, and so the Roundtable and its partners helped secure an unprecedented $200 million in the state's FY 2008-09 budget to fund college scholarships for aspiring STEM majors, research grants for STEM college faculty, training and professional development for STEM classroom teachers and planning grants and support for new STEM schools and programs. This was unprecedented; indeed, no state in America had yet committed to such an extraordinary level of state funding support. But no state either had such committed legislative leaders than Ohio, especially the then-Speaker of the Ohio House Jon Husted and then-Senate President Bill Harris.

In January 2008, some six months after Governor Ted Strickland signed the state budget bill into law, the private-sector partners - Ohio Business Roundtable, Battelle and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - joined with the Governor and state legislative leaders on the campus of The Metro School to announce the creation of the OSLN. Today, OSLN is playing a major role in training the next generation of scientists and technology leaders as well as the critical thinkers and problem solvers needed to attract, retain and grow businesses that can compete successfully in a global economy.

Workforce Development

The BRT's workforce development advocacy dates back to 1998, when in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Education and ACT, we launched the Ohio Skill Gap Initiative. It's purpose was to determine what foundation skills and skill levels entry-level employees need to succeed - and whether or not students graduating from Ohio's public schools were prepared to acquire the knowledge and skills they would need to enter and advance through the workforce. The final report, Knowledge and Know-How: Meeting Ohio's Skill Gap Challenge, offered recommendations for actions to help close the gap between the skills of Ohio's emerging workforce and the skill demands of the workplace.

Fast forward 15 years. Today, there are some 100,000 unfilled jobs advertised on a daily basis for which businesses in Ohio are unable to recruit qualified workers. That’s a static number, stopping short of what will be needed in the future.  Currently, the BRT is helping Governor Kasich to create a sustainable, regionally focused workforce forecast as one of the pillars that serves to attract, enable and retain a best-in-class workforce in Ohio. If businesses are to grow, education and training providers need to know what their future hiring needs will be so they can plan their curricula and help steer qualified workers to those jobs. In short, this is about demand driving supply.  


To gain a better view of statewide demand, the Ohio Business Roundtable has developed, with support from Accenture, an on-line workforce information collection process and tool, called the “workforce information exchange.”  The on-line tool itself is simple and non-invasive and collects forecast data on a company’s most critical job shortages in Ohio and one, three and five years out. To assist in and inform the data collection process, historical and present hiring information has also been embedded in the tool.


The forecast data is being aggregated at a sector and regional level, and will not be disclosed by company. The data will be transmitted to the State of Ohio, and with attendant security controls,the State will provide only aggregated data to training providers, educational institutions and students, to plan course content and predict the number of graduating students needed to meet the demand of employers  



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