Academic journal article High School Journal

Alternative Education Programs: Program and Student Characteristics

Academic journal article High School Journal

Alternative Education Programs: Program and Student Characteristics

Article excerpt

Alternative education programs are often viewed as individualized opportunities designed to meet the educational needs for youth identified as at-risk for school failure. Increasingly, these programs have been identified as programs for disruptive youth who have been referred from traditional schools. The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of the administrative structures and physical facilities of alternative education programs and to describe the student population and educational services being offered to youth attending such programs. The findings suggest programs appear to be largely site-based programs, often operating in physical facilities with limited access to academic supports. The student population appears to be mostly high school students with a large portion of students identified as disabled. The general education curriculum is reported as a predominant course of study among alternative schools, supplemented with vocational education. Students appear to be provided with a number of school and community support activities. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

Within the past decade, a rise in the number of alternative education programs serving youth at-risk for education failure has been observed. In 1993-1994, 2606 alternative schools operated separately from traditional schools. A 47% (3850) increase in the number of alternative education schools was observed by the 19971998 school year (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). However, when the definition of alternative education for at-risk youth is expanded to include public alternative schools, charter schools for at-risk youth, programs within juvenile detention centers, community-based schools or programs operated by districts, and alternative schools with evening and weekend formats, the number of programs increased substantially. The National Center on Educational Statistics, for the academic year 2000-2001, reported 10,900 public alternative schools and programs serving 612,000 students were operating in the United States (Kleiner et al., 2002).

Alternative education programs are often viewed as individualized opportunities designed to meet the educational needs for youth identified as at-risk for school failure. More recently, these programs have been viewed as programs for disruptive youth who are experiencing difficulty in traditional schools (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 1999). Likewise, the approaches and orientation of the programs appear to differ accordingly. Some programs emphasize a disciplinary orientation and others focus on developing an innovative program that seeks to meet students' unique educational needs (Lehr & Lange, 2003). Raywid (1994) identified three categories of alternative education programs. Type I programs refer to schools of choice such as magnet schools which may have a programmatic theme for content (e.g., math, science, art), and/or instructional approaches (e.g., open grade). Type II programs are for students who have been identified as disruptive to the traditional school. These programs may represent one "last chance" before being expelled from school. The emphasis is on behavior modification without regard for modifications of curriculum or pedagogy. The third program type, Type III, has a rehabilitation/remediation emphasis. The goal is for students to return to the traditional school.

Descriptions of alternative schools and programs have suggested such programs exhibit specific structural and programming characteristics. For example, alternative education programs have often been characterized as small enrollment programs. Earlier reports have suggested the student populations of programs were approximately 200 students or less (Franklin, 1992; Lange & Sletten, 2002; Paglin & Fager, 1997). Other descriptions have identified individualized instruction which meets students' unique academic and social-emotional needs as characteristic of alternative education programs (Franklin, 1992; Lange & Sletten, 2002). …

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