Business and schools

Local employers are properly taking greater responsibility for improving the education of their future workers


Basic education in Lucas County must improve, says Al Stroucken, chairman and chief executive officer of Owens-Illinois Inc. His company and other northwest Ohio employers have a direct stake in the matter, because the students in classrooms today will be their workers tomorrow.

Mr. Stroucken is a prime mover behind a new initiative, Aspire, that aims to apply business methods and benchmarks to the preparation of local young people for careers. This involvement by business in education is encouraging.

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Just half of Lucas County students show proficiency in math by fifth grade, compared with three-quarters across Ohio, test scores suggest. Fewer than three out of four Lucas County third graders are proficient in reading, compared with seven out of eight throughout Ohio.

Across the nation, two out of five high school graduates need remedial work when they enter college. One out of five American workers is illiterate and ignorant of basic mathematical concepts, Mr. Stroucken estimates.

Aspire’s 25-member board includes representatives of The Andersons, Key Bank, ProMedica, Libbey Inc., Owens Corning, and Dana Holding Corp., along with the University of Toledo and Toledo Public Schools. “We employ large numbers of people in this community,” Mr. Stroucken says, “and we want young adults who are healthy and well-educated in our work force.”

If the Toledo area is to get new investments and jobs, it must offer prospective employers talented workers. That requires better schools.

Aspire is modeled after programs that operate in about 100 communities across the nation, including Cincinnati, where the Strive Together initiative launched in 2006. In Cincinnati, kindergarten readiness rose by 9 percent and high school graduation by 11 percent during the program’s first five years; other reforms took effect at the same time.

Aspire aims to establish “cradle to career” goals for children, look at which efforts work best to achieve these goals, break down barriers between local community institutions, and spread the news of successes. It wants to work with public and private schools to show and share what works.

Minority and disadvantaged students especially need help, Mr. Stroucken says. It’s callous to demand that parents take sole responsibility for the education of their children if they are working as much as 10 hours a day, he adds.

Aspire’s goals include ensuring that local children are born healthy; 9.6 percent of Lucas County newborns have low birth weight. The group wants children to be proficient in reading by third grade and math by fifth grade. It wants to improve high school graduation rates — now less than 70 percent in Lucas County — and broaden young adults’ access to post-secondary education and training.

Aspire began as a collaboration among United Way of Greater Toledo, the Toledo Community Foundation, and the Lucas County Family Council. It plans to report regularly to the community. The initiative’s most important outcome will be a smarter, more-disciplined work force.