Academic journal article High School Journal

Why Alternative Education Works

Academic journal article High School Journal

Why Alternative Education Works

Article excerpt

The Problem

The problem of our discontented youth continues to be a serious one with an unacceptable number of students leaving school without earning their high school diploma or a GED. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1991 approximately 348,000 students age 15 through 24 dropped out of high school, and more than 3.9 million persons age 16 through 24 had not completed high school and were not currently enrolled in school. Important subgroup differences persist; Hispanics' dropout rates (i.e., proportion of individuals at any given time who are not enrolled in school and have not completed high school) were two to five times higher than those of whites and blacks. Also, low income students, students living in central cities, and older students were more likely to drop out than other students. Without a high school education, where will these young people fit into our increasingly complex and demanding society?

The Need for Alternatives

The impetus for "alternative" measures originates with the nation's concern over the continuing dropout dilemma which presents staggering social and economic repercussions. Dropouts cost the nation about $77 billion dollars annually--$3 billion in crime prevention, $3 billion in welfare and unemployment, and $71 billion in lost tax revenue (Wehlage & Rutter, 1986). In Texas, a 1986 study on the cost-benefit ratio of dropping out of school found substantial savings in expenditures related to welfare, crime, incarceration, and unemployment insurance payments as a result of reducing the dropout rate (Texas Education Agency, 1993). The study projected a potential gain in earnings and tax revenues to the state of 17.5 billion over a period of 45 years if dropouts actually graduated. For every $1 spent on the prevention and education of potential dropouts, $9 would be returned to the state. It is too costly in lost taxes, misspent revenues, lost productivity, and lost lives to ignore the impact of dropouts on the economy and on society. The problem obviously warrants the number and variety of alternative education measures now in existence. Dropping out of school is the surest way of perpetuating the cycle of poverty and crime that many students are born into. Everyone knows this, including the students. Why then do they drop out?

Why Students Drop Out

There is no single simple cause underlying the problem of discouraged learners. Students give many reasons for dropping out of high school including academic, behavioral, economic, and personal factors. A consistent finding in nearly every study is that dropping out is correlated with low socioeconomic class, minority status, low test scores and grades (leading to "flunking out"), and dissatisfaction with school (Fine, 1986; Roderick, 1994; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986). One educator, Roland S. Barth, pinpoints the main reason quite accurately:

   But the major factor in students' lives that leads to depression, dropping
   out, drugs, jail, and suicide appears to be the school experience: ability
   groups, grade retention, college pressures, working alone, denial of
   strengths and focus on weaknesses, learning that is information-rich and
   experience-poor, and an irrelevant curriculum that students must endure and
   frequently ignore (1991, p.126).

Other educators, school board members, and parents have reached this same conclusion and are working resolutely to find solutions. Traditional school is not only not meeting the needs of our students, but is turning off a great majority of them; thus, the demand for non-traditional education such as charter schools, home schooling and alternative schools (whether school-within-a-school or off-site) will necessarily increase.

New Directions Academy: A Model Program

In 1992, in an effort to recover dropouts and reduce the high dropout rate, the Ysleta Independent School District, a large progressive urban district in the border city of El Paso, Texas, initiated seven new alternative education programs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.