Academic journal article High School Journal

An Evaluation of a Successful Alternative High School

Academic journal article High School Journal

An Evaluation of a Successful Alternative High School

Article excerpt

Until recently, dropping out of high school was as much a solution as a problem for society. Schools served a sorting function. Those who were successful in school filled jobs requiring higher levels of skill. Those with the least education were relegated to unskilled jobs (Schlechty, 1989). This arrangement worked well as long as the need for unskilled labor remained high. However, changes in America's economy have eliminated many jobs requiring unskilled labor at a time when the number of 16-24 year-olds, the traditional source of new workers, is shrinking. Therefore, employers are having to reach into the ranks of the less qualified where, historically, human resource investments have been deficient (Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer, 1988). Dropping out of school is now considered to be a major social/ economic problem (Schletchty, 1989).

Increasingly, alternative schools are being implemented to attempt to lure dropouts back to school and to keep them in school until graduation. As these schools proliferate, there is a need to evaluate what they are doing and what effects they are having on students. The purpose of this study was to evaluate an alternative high school that has been successful in getting dropouts to return to school and to remain until graduation.

Methods

Statement of the Problem/Subjects. In this study, an attempt was made to measure and to record any changes in attendance, achievement, and self-esteem that enrollees experienced during a one semester period of attendance at a successful alternative high school for dropouts located in Peoria, Illinois. Seventy-one new alternative school enrollees were considered to be the experimental group and the program provided at the alternative high school to be the treatment. A control group for the variables: attendance, achievement and self-esteem, was made up of 44 individuals taken from the list of those who had applied but had not yet been admitted to the alternative high school.

The Treatment. Documentation of the alternative school program was accomplished via extensive observation at the school, interviews of teachers, students, parents and others, and a review of documents concerning the school. The process took almost a year to complete.

Some of the more salient characteristics of the program are:

1. Teachers selected for the program consistently maintained high expectations for students, routinely employed positive discipline techniques, and primarily established rapport with students and peers.

2. The location for the school was purposely selected to be away from other high schools, in neutral territory, close to public transportation.

3. The curriculum for the school is highly individualized and includes a high degree of hands-on activities.

4. All students go to school a half day and work at a paying or volunteer job a half day.

5. Enrollment at the school is limited to 100 students. Class sizes are seldom over 15 students. The teacher/student ratio is 1 to 12.

6. All staff members consider student counseling to be a part of their job.

7. Staff members work very hard to create a family atmosphere at the school. Team building activities are built into the curriculum and Fridays are largely devoted to career exploration, team building, and counseling. Family meetings are routinely used to resolve conflicts and to reduce student frustrations. An air of informality is apparent. Competition between groups is encouraged while competition between individuals is down-played.

8. Goal setting is a regular part of every academic curriculum.

9. Formative, summative, and self evaluation are noticeably apparent to an observer. The faculty meets for two hours every Friday afternoon to discuss progress of individual students and how things appear to be going in general at the school.

10. The alternative school staff works closely with other community agencies to remove barriers to students' success in school. …

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