Entrepreneurs in Education

Posted: March 2, 2014 by Brian Ross in Education, HIgher Education, Innovation, Leadership, Non-Profit, Social Entrepreneurship

BrianrossA smart man once told me, “The education community has it backwards. Neither the student nor their parents are the customers. The customer is business. Students are the product.” Little Suzy or Johnny aren’t really widgets fresh off the assembly line. The real purpose of school is to prepare kids for career.

How are our schools doing? Although there are many excellent schools, the answer in general is not great. The Organization of Economic Development tests 15 year-olds across the globe. The U.S. results out of 65 countries are remarkably unimpressive: 24th Reading, 36th for both Mathematics and Science. OK. Maybe you don’t believe the validity of international tests. However, only 28% of employers in a 2009 Association of American Colleges and University survey said that 4-year colleges were doing a good job preparing students for the challenges in today’s global economy.

Our nation’s education issues are complex and there is no single solution. Fortunately, in our community, we have many “educational entrepreneurs” who are creating innovative, more effective approaches. Examples include New Technology High at Cincinnati Public (Aiken) and Winton Woods, Carpe Diem (Aiken), the Strive Partnership’s Social Innovation Fund, Education at Work to name a few.

Two recent approaches, built on business partnerships, use bold yet proven solutions. DePaul Cristo Rey is a high school of 175 students grades 9 to 11. Next year they will graduate their first class. It is one of 26 Cristo Rey schools across the country. Last year, these schools sent 82% of their graduates to college and their students graduate college at a 10-point clip above the national college graduate rate.

The school admits only low-income students. Students attend class four days per week. On the fifth day, they report to work at 73 local businesses. This helps pay tuition. Equally important, students learn first hand the ethos, etiquette and success factors in the modern workplace. Sr. Jeanne Bessette (OSF), her staff and their corporate partners are not only investing in each child, they are investing in our future, local labor force.

Secondly, local educational entrepreneurs are also forging innovative partnerships. The Be The Change tutoring campaign is a collaborative effort amongst United Way of Greater Cincinnati, The Strive Partnership, Cincinnati Public Schools, and the business community. It is a core initiative to achieve United Way’s Education Bold Goal of a 85% high school graduation rate. Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) now graduates 64% of its students.

Research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that a child not reading proficiently by the end of the 3rd grade has a 4 times greater chance of not graduating high school on time. Include concentrated poverty and the rate jumps to 9 times. Although only 51% of CPS 3rd graders are proficient, early evidence shows students with tutors make gains 2.5 to 3 times greater than students without them.

How do you mobilize enough people to tutor a significant number of deficient readers? Enter Rob Reifsnyder of United Way, Greg Landsman at The Strive Partnership, Mary Ronan, CPS’s Superintendent, and the business community. Last year’s Be The Change campaign chairs, Doc Huffman (Ohio National), Chris Froman (Pomeroy) and Steve Shifman (Michelman) persuaded 30 local CEOs to send 650 employee volunteers to tutors in 16 CPS schools. Still another 1,000 CPS students need a tutor. This year the collective influence of United Way’s 900 + member Tocqueville Society is reaching even more companies.

Tutoring also benefits the business. As Steve Shifman relates, “Our employees who tutor are among the most engaged and committed of our team. They appreciate the investment we make in them to give back. It is a true win-win. They love that they’re having an impact on their students, but they also know that their students have an impact on them as well. They come back to work even more engaged and eager to serve our customers and help our business to win”

(To involve your company or organization, call Dara Jenkins of CPS at 513-363-0569 (Be The Change) or Lisa Claytor at 513-861-0600 ext. 316 (DePaul Cristo Rey).)

Brian Ross is the former CFO of Cincinnati Bell and founder of AssuredMedPay.com, a Cincinnati startup.

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