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October 24, 2003
Section: Rep Columnists

Ohio education needs reform to keep grads here

Ohio has too few college graduates, experts say, and too few jobs for those who do finish college. As a result, despite fewer than average college grads, Ohio is an exporter of educated young people to other states with better job opportunities. This is no environment in which to expect that Ohioís economy will turn around and become robust.
At a home level, Stark County mothers and fathers who work to send their kids to college donít want to lose them to a job that is an airplane ride away. And neither do the education and business leaders who have joined the P-16 Compact in Stark County.

P-16 stands for preschool-through-undergraduate school, or 16th grade, if one were to number the years after high school. The P-16 Compact wants to create an educational system with each part relating to each other ó grade school with high school, high school with college, preferably a local college. Each step would carefully prepare young people for the next step, with the goal of educating young people for rewarding jobs that they can find in this community.

To the second annual meeting of the P-16 Compact, on Thursday morning at the Marriott McKinley Grand Hotel, came Stephen R. Portch. He is a literature professor from England who, for nearly 30 years, has made a career for himself in U.S. higher education and education reform. He played the role of out-of-town expert.

Portch is the former chancellor for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, consisting of 34 public colleges and universities. In a paper distributed at Thursdayís meeting, Portch said, ďItís time to invest in the link between certain university research and the new economy and in the undergraduate education of a higher proportion of the stateís population.Ē

He would have Ohio perform a massive change in the way children are prepared for college, and in the way colleges go about educating young people. Examples? On the high-school level, one curriculum for all. Eliminate no one from the possibility, and the expectation, that they could go on to college. And at the college level, break down the departmental structure of colleges that categorize learning, and abandon the notion that education is performed after a certain number of credits are earned. At all times, keep in mind that the goal is to prepare young people for the work of the future.

That work will be in the manufacturing of new high-technology products that donít yet exist, but may exist, if weíre lucky, through research partnerships among business, universities and the government.

To average citizens, the adults paying the taxes and raising the children, these theories, data, and research papers of educational performers are too intangible to imagine as real life ó yet.

What will it mean to my kid? Thatís what you would ask. Thatís what I ask. What will her math classes be like? What new jobs would a reformed college system be preparing him for? We are the consumers. Show us the product. Show us how it works. Thatís easier said than done.

Skepticism canít be anything new or surprising to reformers. They need to be encouraged to press on nevertheless. Iím one skeptic who wishes them well. They do want what everyone in Ohio should want, an economy based on products we can manufacture better than workers can in other states or countries, and a place where our children can prosper before our very eyes. Perhaps the path will be more clear when the third P-16 Compact Conference takes place next year.

Yellow Pages

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