Fordham's Kathryn Mullen Upton testifies in support of charter school serving incarcerated youth

Yesterday Fordham's Kathryn Mullen Upton, director of charter school sponsorship for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, testified before the Ohio Senate Education Committee in support of SB 86.

The bill would enable the creation of a charter school that would ?serve adults of school age who are incarcerated or who have been released from the custody of the Department of Youth Services? (Gongwer News Service ? subscription required). The proposed school would be called WinWin Academy and would serve youths ages 18-22, and initially would be located at the Pickaway Correctional Institution. A second campus would open at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Unlike current educational arrangements for incarcerated youth, the charter school/s would continue serving students after their release from prison and thus would provide continuity and assist them in their transition back to society.

In her testimony, Kathryn noted that:

While there are other programs that provide incarcerated persons the opportunity to complete basic courses and earn a GED or diploma, WinWin Academy stands alone in that it provides educational and mentoring continuity to students during the critical time when they leave prison and attempt to re-enter society.

The proposed model for WinWin Academy is exactly the kind of innovative educational program that Ohio's charter school mechanism was designed to incubate, and, if successful, help replicate. Ohio's charter school program is almost 15 years old and during that time it seems that there has been a shift away from conceptualizing and implementing something truly innovative and a move toward using the charter mechanism to replicate what we know works. Replication of quality programs that deliver good results for students is of course a good thing and should continue. However, at the same time we should not lose sight of the reason charter schools were created in the first place: to provide an independent, accountable, public school space for educational innovation.

But innovation is not the only thing WinWin has going for it; Kathryn also noted the importance of accountability in the charter sector and points out that the school's authorizer (aka sponsor), the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, has a track record of actively monitoring its schools and making sure they are held to high standards. ?The ESCCO is not afraid to make tough decisions when it comes to schools that are underperforming, and in fact recently initiated closure proceedings at one school.?

Read her full testimony here.

- Jamie Davies O'Leary

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