Educational Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth

Laudan Y. Aron
November 1, 2003

Preface................................................................................................................................ 1
Chapter 1 ? Vulnerable Youth: Identifying Their Need for Alternative Educational
Settings............................................................................................................................... 3
Disconnected Youth........................................................................................................ 3
The Ways Youth Disconnect .......................................................................................... 5
School Completion and Dropping Out ....................................................................... 5
Teen Pregnancy and Parenting.................................................................................. 10
Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System ............................................................. 10
Leaving the Foster Care System ............................................................................... 11
The Need for Alternative Education ............................................................................. 12
Alternative Schools ? Who is Being Reached? ........................................................ 12
Exhibit 1: Alternative Schools to Assist Dropouts in Iowa .......................................... 13
Number of Alternative Schools through School Districts ........................................ 13
The Student Population in Alternative Schools ........................................................ 14
Alternative Schools as Service Providers ................................................................. 16
Extent of Need .......................................................................................................... 17
Exhibit 2: Rough Estimates of the Number Of Vulnerable Youth ............................... 18
in Alternative Education ............................................................................................... 18
Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 18
Chapter 2 ? Towards a Typology of Alternative Education Programs: A Compilation of
Elements from the Literature ............................................................................................ 20
Introduction................................................................................................................... 20
Alternative Education Programs Defined ..................................................................... 22
Who: The Population ................................................................................................ 24
Where: Operational Setting....................................................................................... 24
What: Content and Objectives .................................................................................. 25
How: Administration and Funding ........................................................................... 29
Potentially Promising Program Features ...................................................................... 31
Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 36
Exhibit 3: Possible Dimensions of A Typology of Alternative Education ........................... 37
Chapter 3 ? Research Agenda on Educational Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth.......... 40
Research on the Scope of the problem and background information ........................... 41
Need for Educational Alternatives or Alternative Pathways .................................... 41
Current Educational Alternatives.............................................................................. 41
Systems Analysis .......................................................................................................... 42
Mapping Local Educational Systems for Needs Analysis........................................ 42
Alternative Education Settings?Opportunities or Barriers ..................................... 45
Analysis of Impact, Outcomes, and Effectiveness........................................................ 46
Outcomes .................................................................................................................. 46
Performance Monitoring........................................................................................... 47
Best Practices?Criteria for Best Practices............................................................... 48
Other Background Information Needed........................................................................ 48
Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 49
References........................................................................................................................ 50
Appendix A: Factors that Place Students At Risk ............................................................ 55
Appendix B: Roundtable Participants............................................................................... 56
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
America's alarming school dropout rate ? an estimated 10
percent nationwide and 50 percent in some inner cities ? is as
vital a problem as any plaguing the public schools? The United
States has no real national system of alternative education that
offers out-of-school kids a second chance: What we have is a
wide array of mostly underfunded programs that serve only a tiny
percentage of this population.
? National Center on Education and the Economy (1998)
Public education in the U.S. has undergone a gradual but profound set of changes over
the past twenty years. Since the publication of A Nation At Risk in 1983 (National
Commission on Excellence in Education) and A Nation Prepared in 1986 (Carnegie
Forum on Education and the Economy), parents, legislatures, and school boards have all
been demanding better outcomes from primary and secondary public schools. As a
result, K-12 schools across the country have been focusing their efforts on adopting high
academic standards, improving accountability, and achieving excellence, while at the
same time cracking down on serious violations of school disciplinary codes. The main
beneficiaries of these changes have been college-bound youth and others who tend to
respond well to the organizational culture of traditional schools (Leone & Drakeford,
Non-college-bound youth and others who for a variety of reasons have not done well in
traditional public schools have largely been left behind by the high academic standards
high-stakes assessment movement. The nation, however, cannot afford not to educate
these children. About one-quarter of all students drop-out of the traditional K-12
educational system before receiving their high school diploma (Kaufman et al., 2000).
High school graduation rates have actually declined over the past 10 years, and in a ?last
best chance? to succeed academically, American children have been turning to alternative
education programs in record numbers. These children need and deserve quality
education programs for the same reasons that their traditional school counterparts do:
they need the knowledge and skills that quality programs provide in order to succeed in
the new global economy of the 21st century.
Unfortunately, there is no precise accounting of alternative schools or programs in the
United States. Available estimates suggest that there are over 20,000 alternative schools
and programs currently in operation, most designed to reach students at risk for school
failure (Lange & Sletten, 2002) but these programs clearly fall far short of the need.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
One-third of public school districts with alternative schools and programs for at-risk
students had at least one school or program that was at capacity and could not enroll new
students during the 1999?2000 school year, and 54 percent of these same districts
reported that enrollment exceeded capacity within the last 3 years (Kleiner, Porch, &
Farris, 2002). Other studies suggest that there are only 200,000 alternative education
slots available nationally, and only 5 percent of all out-of-school youth are enrolled in
some type of alternative education program (DeJesus, 2000).
Part of the difficulty in developing reliable estimates has to do with a lack of common
definitions and standards. Chapter 1 of this document examines the need for alternative
education among vulnerable youth by reviewing the numbers and characteristics of youth
who disconnect from mainstream developmental pathways in various ways. The second
chapter examines the question of ?what is an alternative education school or program?
and draws on a variety of elements from the literature to suggest the beginnings of a
typology that might be used to define and organize the varieties of educational
alternatives that currently exist and might be promoted in the future. Finally, Chapter 3
summarizes the findings of a roundtable on directions for future research on alternative
education and describes the types of information and studies that are needed to advance
the field of alternative education and foster more support for the development of high
quality educational alternatives that all children can choose and benefit from.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Adolescence is a time of transition and change. It is a time when youth work toward
educational and vocational goals, take on exciting new responsibilities, and prepare for
their transition to adulthood. Most youth move through adolescence experiencing little or
no adversity and successfully transition into adult roles and responsibilities. However,
this is not the case for all of America?s youth. A proportion of America?s youth struggle
to achieve developmental goals during adolescence and become disconnected from
mainstream institutions and systems?including schools. Their day-to-day lives are very
different than the more typical American adolescent. These youth are vulnerable to
further failures and continued disconnection from society, often resulting in lifelong
economic and social hardship.
Alternative schools and programs may be a source of both disconnection from and
reconnection to mainstream institutions. Some schools may use alternative education
options as ways to remove youth who are disciplinary problems and/or unable to meet
standards set by testing environments. On the other hand, some alternative education
approaches attempt to meet the needs of disconnected and vulnerable youth and represent
one way to reconnect them to society.
The purpose of this chapter is to examine the extent to which alternative education
schools and programs can meet the needs of the nation?s vulnerable youth. The
characteristics of youth facing disconnection from society are summarized, as are the risk
factors associated with disconnection and the characteristics of students in selected
alternative education settings. While there are currently no consistent or comprehensive
data on the number of youth who could potentially benefit from alternative education or
the number currently being served by alternative education schools and programs, rough
estimates (based on existing data) are presented to provide a sense of the magnitude of
A portion of America?s youth are not connected to society through mainstream public
systems and agencies or in meaningful ways that are markers of important developmental
transitions throughout adolescence and young adulthood. These youth are not headed on
the ?typical? path to adult roles and responsibilities. By ?atypical? we do not mean youth
who merely express their individuality but instead we mean a group of youth who are
currently struggling to be successful in their roles as adolescents and who are socially,
educationally, and economically disadvantaged relative to their peers. These are youth
who are not connected to education, employment, or organizations that prepare them for
successful adulthood. In defining vulnerable or disconnected youth, researchers
variously focus on teenagers alone or teens plus young adults. Similarly, many empirical
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
studies analyze specific adolescent development issues and risk factors, while most
policy studies focus on measurable factors that can be used to understand the extent of
The most common factors used to characterize disconnected youth relate to individual
education and employment activity. In 2001, 9 percent of youth ages 16 to 19 years were
not enrolled in school and were not working (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and
Family Statistics, 2002). Black and Hispanic youth were more likely to be disconnected
from education and employment than white youth. Fourteen percent of black youth and
13 percent of Hispanic youth were disconnected as compared to 6 percent of white youth.
The percent of disconnected youth of all races, however, has been declining throughout
the last decades.
Variations in disconnection also occur by state. For example, in 1999 when 8 percent of
youth ages 16 to 19 years ? or about 1.3 million teenagers - were not attending school and
were not working, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska had the lowest proportion of youth not
attending school and not working (4 percent ? Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2002).
Arkansas and Mississippi had relatively higher proportions (12 percent). The District of
Columbia had an even higher rate of disconnection, with 15 percent of its youth not
connected to employment or education.
Besharov and Gardiner (1999) expanded the definition of disconnection by also
considering military service and marital status, broadening the age group of interest, and
examining the duration of disconnection. Their definition of disconnection identified
disconnected youth who were not enrolled in school, who were not employed, who were
not in the military, and who were not married to someone who met at least one of these
criteria for 26 weeks or more in a one year period. The researchers found that more than
one third of 16 to 23 year olds (representing about 5 million young persons) were
disconnected during one calendar year and many go through periods of disconnection.
This number captures both relatively advantaged youth, such as those that might have
graduated from college and who are not working yet, as well as disadvantaged youth.
The researchers distinguish between short- and long-term disconnection to further clarify
the nature of it. Twenty-four percent of males and females experienced short-term
disconnection ? that is, for one to two years ? while 13 percent of males and 14 percent
of female?s experienced long-term disconnection of three years or more. Short-term
disconnected youth did not suffer the serious social and/or economic problems that the
long-term disconnected youth did (Besharov & Gardiner, 1999). The long-term
disconnected youth were more likely to have dropped out of school, to become a parent
before the age of 18, and to spend time in jail than youth who were disconnected for a
short term.
Building on this work, Brown and Emig (1999) further studied long-term disconnected
youth. The researchers reported the risk factors predicting long-term disconnection
included: family poverty and welfare receipt, low parental education, living in single or
no parent households, having a child before age 18, dropping out of high school, and
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
having a combination of any of these risk factors. They found that 77 percent of these
young men and 89 percent of these young women had been poor at some point in their
childhoods and they were 13 times more likely to be poor in early adulthood compared to
their connected peers. Long-term disconnected youth were more likely than their peers to
receive welfare and Food Stamps, and to be unemployed. Fifty-seven percent of the
women received Aid to Families with Dependent Children and 64 percent had received
Food Stamps. The men spent half of their time unemployed and the other half not
seeking work (meaning they were out of the labor force). Women spent 75 percent of
their time not seeking work. They also were less likely to marry than their peers and these
youth remain disconnected into their late twenties.
Youth often experience economic hardship and developmental difficulties when they
disconnect from society and public systems. Disconnection can occur in a number of
ways. Wertheimer and colleagues (as seen in Yohalem & Pittman, 2001) identified that
10 percent of youth are vulnerable because they are disconnected in critical ways from
key societal institutions or agencies. That is, the disconnected population includes youth
leaving public systems, such as foster care, juvenile justice, and welfare; youth who are
or have been homeless; youth who are out of school and have not graduated; and youth
with an incarcerated parent. Also, youth in families with limited English capability, such
as those from immigrant families, may have less access to engage in systems that keep
them connected. Issues such as these not only serve as ways youth become disconnected
but also contributes to them remaining disconnected. For instance, researchers estimate
that at least five percent of youth ages 12 to 17 are homeless each year (Roberston &
Toro, 1999). Homelessness may not be the reason some youth disconnected from
mainstream systems originally, but it certainly would contribute to them not being able to
reconnect easily. To further complicate these issues, services developed to assist such
youth in reconnecting to mainstream institutions are not available for all the individuals
that need them (Yohalem & Pittman, 2001).
Below, the characteristics related to four areas in which youth disconnect are discussed
further. Of particular interest are: school completion and dropping out; teen pregnancy
and parenting; involvement in the juvenile justice system; and leaving the foster care
system. Disconnection in each of these four areas make youth more vulnerable to an
unsuccessful transition to adulthood and to economic hardship.
School Completion and Dropping Out
In 2000, researchers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported
that 10.9 percent of the 16-24 year old youth and young adults in the United States ? or
3.8 million people ? were not enrolled in a high school program and had not successfully
completed high school (Kaufman, Alt, & Chapman, 2001). These out-of-school youth
contribute to high youth unemployment rates (Pennington, 2003). Employers are
increasingly demanding higher skills for a number of jobs that disconnected youth could
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
fill, however, the skills of disconnected youth are inadequate to meet such demands
(Lerman, 1999).
Therefore, successfully surviving in the 21st Century economy increasingly requires that
individuals not only complete high school but also obtain education beyond high school
(Pennington, 2003). The skills the labor force requires to support the current economy
are those typically attained in college (Pennington, 2003). Yet, many feel that the
American education system is failing to educate a large number of youth through the high
school level. Thirty-five percent of eighth grade students in the United States scored
below the basic math level in 2000 (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2002). And in 1998,
only 31 percent of eighth grade students were considered proficient readers (Yohalem &
Pittman, 2001). Fifteen million children are enrolled in public schools that are
considered substandard (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2001). Many youth are being
taught by teachers who lack adequate qualifications. Children attending schools with a
high concentration of poverty are more likely than children in schools with low poverty
to have under-qualified teachers (Yohalem & Pittman, 2001). The same is true for
children in schools with high minority populations. Evidence shows that many youth
have low basic functional skills.
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (2001) identified barriers to education both within and
outside of the school system. Within school systems, one barrier to education is the
unintended consequences of inflexible school discipline policies, such as zero tolerance.
Other barriers to education are related to individual or family characteristics, or
neighborhood contexts, such as:| Poverty| A poor educational start| Community stress| Racial/ethnic/language barriers| Lack of adult supervision, mentors, and community supports| Family stress and responsibility| Learning disabilities and related conditions
The problems of school drop out are increasingly clear, but there appears to be little
support for addressing these problems. Ironically, federal dollars targeted toward out-ofschool
youth continues to decline at the same time there is a strong research base that
documents practices that work to best assist youth (Pennington, 2003). Similarly,
disconnected and out-of-school youth are reportedly not a priority for the general public
(Youth Development and Research Fund, 2002). Voters place most of the blame for
teenage failure on their parents, with secondary blame placed with the youth themselves;
only a few voters blame such failures on faulty institutions and administrators of such
To fully understand issues related to disconnection from school and how this may relate
to alternative education, it is useful to examine both the rate of completing school and the
rate of dropping out of school. The two rates estimate different things ? completion
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
rates estimate school performance and dropout rates estimate student outcomes. By
reviewing both sets of numbers, we can begin to understand how many youth
successfully finish school and in what context this occurs. In addition, we can also assess
the extent to which youth obtain degrees, GED?s, and other certificates from contexts
different than mainstream school settings and the need for alternative school settings.
Completing School
Estimating the number of youth that successfully finish school is difficult because
researchers use different methodological definitions of school completion. According to
NCES, in 2000, 86.5 percent of 18 to 24 year old young adults not enrolled in high school
had successfully completed it (including attaining high school diplomas or equivalent
credentials such as the GED); 91.8 percent of White young adults and 83.7 percent of
African American young adults (Kaufman, Alt, & Chapman, 2001).
Using a different methodology to address the extent to which high schools graduate
students, Greene and Winters (2002) report somewhat lower rates of high school
completion. According to Greene and Winters, 69 percent of the public school class of
2000 graduated: 79 percent of Asian students, 76 percent of White students, 57 percent of
Native American students, 55 percent of African American students, 53 percent of
Hispanic students. Unlike Kaufman and colleagues, Greene and Winters focus only on
official high school graduation, and do not count attainment of a GED or other alternative
credentials as high school completion. The authors do not include any type of credential
except high school diplomas because the purpose of calculating high school completion
rates is to evaluate schools not individual students. Counting youth that receive
alternative credentials inflates overall percentages of high school completers and does not
allow one to tease out how many youth do not receive diplomas in traditional high school
settings. Obtaining some alternative credential or GED is surely beneficial to individuals,
but particular high schools did not graduate these individuals. That is, Kaufman and
colleagues document the number of individuals, ages 18 to 24, who have obtained high
school credentials by whatever means by the year 2000. In contrast, Greene and Winters
document the percent of youth that actually graduate with diplomas from public high
schools in the year 2000.
Different stories can be told depending on which methodology is used. For example,
States rank differently on overall school completion rates depending on the definition
used. If States report their school completion rates using the Kaufman et al. methodology
the rates are higher whereas with the Greene and Winters methodology their percent of
high school graduates is lower. States that rank among those with higher completion
rates with the Kaufman et al. definition drop in the rankings when using the Greene and
Winters methodology.
Greene (2001) further examined high school completion rates by state and district using
data from 1998. He created the same measure of graduation across location so that rates
could be compared. The measure captures the percent of high school diplomas awarded
in 1998 in comparison to the number of youth enrolled in 8th grade in a given school
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
district. The extent to which graduation rates vary within a single state becomes apparent
when rates are looked at this way. For instance, Maryland?s state graduation rate is 75
percent, but the rates are 54 percent in Baltimore City Public School System, 71 percent
in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, 79 percent in Prince Georges County School
District, and 85 percent in Montgomery County Public Schools. Michigan?s state
graduate rate is 75 percent, but the rates are 57 percent in Detroit City School District and
91 percent in Ann Arbor Public Schools. Ohio?s state graduation rate is 77 percent, but
the rates are 28 percent in Cleveland City School District and 45 Percent in Columbus
City School District.
Balfanz and Legters (2001) also found that the number of youth that start high school and
complete it varies from city to city (Balfanz & Legters, 2001). They measured high
school completion by estimating a school?s promotion power ? or the percent of youth
who are in school in 12th grade as compared to those that were in school in 9th grade three
years earlier. They found that in the largest 35 central cities in the United States, 40 to 50
percent had a promoting power of 50 percent or less. In other words, in almost half the
schools in urban areas the number of 12th graders was half or less than the number of
students enrolled in 9th grade three years earlier. Schools falling into this category were
disproportionately serving minority students.
Dropping Out
In fact, according to the 2000 Census, about 11 percent of 16-19 year olds were not
enrolled in school and did not have a high school diploma or GED. The percentage of
high school dropouts has remained relatively stable since 1987. Asian/Pacific Islander
youth had the lowest dropout rates (3.8 percent), followed by Whites (6.9 percent),
African American youth (13.1 percent), and Hispanics (27.8 percent). Almost half of the
Hispanic youth born outside of the United States drop out of high school. Furthermore,
about five percent of all students who enter high school each year drop out within a year.
Five out of every 100 youth enrolled in high school in October 1999 left school before
October 2000 without successfully completing the program (Kaufman, Alt, & Chapman,
2001). Dropout rates vary by state (NCES, accessed April 3, 2003). In 2000, Iowa,
North Dakota, and Wisconsin had the lowest dropout rates (2.5 percent, 2.7 percent, and
2.6 percent, respectively) and Louisiana had the highest dropout rate (9.2 percent).
High school dropouts experience considerable economic and social problems. More
specifically, high school dropouts are 72 percent more likely to be unemployed and earn
27 percent less than those who graduate (US Department of Labor, 2003). Young adults
living in families in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution are six times more
likely than their peers living in families in the highest 20 percent to have dropped out of
school (Kaufman, Alt, & Chapman, 2001). High school dropouts are more likely to
smoke cigarettes regularly, drink alcohol regularly, and use illegal drugs than their peers
in grades 11 and 12 (IYD, 2002). Eighty-two percent of adult prison inmates are high
school dropouts (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2001) and, in 1993, 17 percent of youth
under 18 entering adult prisons had not completed grade school (Ingersoll & LeBoeuf,
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
School Suspension and Expulsion
Some youth who leave school early do not do so voluntarily, but instead are forced to
leave school. Increasingly, difficult and disruptive students are being permanently
expelled from schools. Sometimes these youth continue their education in alternative
settings and sometimes they do not.
A disconnection between research and policy exists (Schiraldi & Ziedenberg, 2001)
regarding school suspensions and expulsion. Although there has been a decrease in
juvenile violence in the 1990s, there also has been a simultaneous sharp increase in harsh
discipline policies. In part this inverse pattern results from the Gun Free Schools Act of
1994 which requires school districts to expel students for at least a year for bringing a
firearm to school (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). Zero tolerance policies have
expanded as have policies regarding expulsion; increasingly districts expel students not
just for carrying firearms, but also for violations such as other acts of violence and drug
related infractions. As a result there has been a national explosion of suspensions and
expulsions since the Gun Free Schools Act was passed (Dohrn, 2001) and African
American and Latino students are more likely to be suspended or expelled than their
White counterparts (Gordon, Piana, & Keleher, 2001).
In a study of school districts that have alternative school settings for youth with discipline
problems, about half listed the following sole reasons as sufficient for transferring
students out of regular school programming: possession, distribution, or use of drugs or
alcohol; physical attacks or fights; chronic truancy; continual academic failure;
possession or use of a weapon other than a firearm; possession of a firearm; and
disruptive verbal behavior (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). About a quarter of districts
listed teen pregnancy and/or parenthood and mental health issues as sole reasons for
transferring youth out of regular programming. Districts with high minority student
enrollment and high poverty concentration were more likely than those with low minority
enrollment and low to moderate poverty concentrations to transfer students from regular
programming solely for possession or use of a weapon other than a firearm, alcohol or
drug issues, physical fights, and disruptive verbal behavior. About three-quarters of the
districts allowed all students the opportunity to return to regular school, a quarter allowed
some but not all students the opportunity, and one percent did not allow students
transferred from regular programming back in. Important reasons for determining
whether or not youth return to regular programming include improved student behavior
and attitudes and student motivation to return. Less important reasons were improved
grades and student readiness based on standardized assessment scores.
While many youth expelled from traditional settings may be referred to alternative school
settings, not all districts have such processes in place, meaning that students expelled due
to policies such as zero tolerance do not always have alternative schools options available
(Johnson, 2001). For example, during 1998-99, only 44 percent were referred to
alternative school placements (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002).
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Some experts note that focusing on difficult or disruptive students ignores real problems
in the educational system (Gregg, 1998). Class size, teacher training, and school
leadership and organization are real challenges facing the system and by focusing on the
child, these issues can be ignored. Fine and Smith (2001) report that zero tolerance
strategies have not been effective because many people have been expelled from school
when they do not deserve to be, the rules make school environments less creative, the
policies are disproportionately imposed by race, and by easily fixing school issues by
getting rid of difficult youth, the United States is filling its prisons. There is concern that
focusing on problem students may create problems of equity by segregating poor,
disabled, and minority students in alternative programs (Gregg, 1998). They caution that
alternative schools should not become ?dumping grounds? for problem students and if the
goals of alternative schools are punitive in nature, the system may adopt ineffective
strategies to improve learning and behavior and may threaten system equity. There
should be clarity about the purpose of the school and how it is supposed to improve
Teen Pregnancy and Parenting
Teen pregnancy and parenting is another way youth can become disconnected from
society and mainstream institutions. Current statistics show the rates of teen pregnancies
and births have dropped throughout the last decade, although the proportion of teens that
are parents in the United States is high relative to other developed countries. In 2001,
approximately 5 percent of youth reported having been pregnant or having gotten
someone pregnant according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
(Grunbaum et al., 2002). In 1999, there were 29 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 17
years (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2002).
As previously noted, some schools do not allow students who are pregnant or parents to
remain enrolled. Regardless of whether these policies are prevalent or not, many teen
parents do not finish their education (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy,
2002), although pregnancy is not necessarily the reason for their non-completion. About
four in ten teen parents have finished high school, and about half of teen parents left
school prior to becoming pregnant. Teens who have children are more likely than their
counterparts to be poor and/or to end up using the welfare system. Their children are
more likely to suffer from neglect, be high school dropouts themselves, and go to prison.
The combination of teenage childbearing and dropping out of high school has particularly
negative long-term consequences.
Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System
Youth also become disconnected from society and mainstream public institutions when
they become involved in the criminal justice system. In 2000, 2.4 million youth under
the age of 18 were arrested, accounting for 17 percent of all arrests (Snyder, 2002).
Every day, juvenile courts around the United States handle 4,800 delinquency cases
(delinquency offenses are those for which adults could be prosecuted in a criminal court ?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). A number of individual youth have more than one
delinquency case per year, meaning that although juvenile courts saw 1.8 million cases in
1996 only 1.2 million youth were represented in those cases.
A number of research studies have shown minorities are disproportionately represented in
the criminal justice system and are treated more harshly by the system (Males &
Macallair, 2000). Minority youth are more likely to be arrested than white youth and
receive more severe dispositions than white youth with comparable charges. Males and
Macallair (2000) found that in the state of California, minority youth are overrepresented
in arrests, transfers to adult courts, sentencing, and imprisonment. Minority
overrepresentation increases the further into the system. For example, minority youth are
2.7 times more likely than white youth to be arrested for a violent felony, they are 3.1
times more likely to be transferred to adult court and sentenced, and they are 8.3 times
more likely to be sentenced to imprisonment by an adult court.
Many youth are detained in various justice system settings. According to the Census of
Juveniles in Residential Placement, a one-day count of all juvenile offenders in both
public and private facilities found that approximately 109,000 juvenile offenders were
held in residential placement (OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, 2002). Again, minority
youth are more likely to be detained than White youth (Males & Macallair, 2000; Snyder
& Sickmund, 1999; Yohalem & Pittman, 2001).
According to Department of Justice Statistics (OJJDP Profile), about 100,000 youth
between the ages of 8 and 24 are in juvenile residential facilities in a given year, with the
average age between 16 and 17. Facilities must continue to provide educational
instruction to juvenile residents under age 18, and perhaps 80,000 16 to 18 year olds
attend education programs in this setting each year.
Youth who are detained in justice facilities are already disadvantaged relative to their
peers. Many incarcerated juveniles are marginally literate or illiterate and have only
limited basic math skills. More than one third of such youth have reading skills below
the fourth grade level. Seventeen percent of those sentenced to adult prisons have not
completed grade school. At the end of their term most teens are released back to their
communities and if their educational lag has not been addressed they remain unskilled
and undereducated (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2001).
Leaving the Foster Care System
Although most youth are in foster care for a set period of time and then cycle out of the
system, some youth remain until they age out because they have become young adults
(typically age 18 ? Wertheimer, 2002). Leaving the foster care system by aging out
represents yet another way youth can disconnect from systems that can support their
In 1999, nearly 20,000 foster children aged out of the system and became legally
independent (nearly 33 percent of the children that left the system that year ?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Wertheimer, 2002). African American children disproportionately age out of the foster
care system whereas White children are underrepresented among such youth. Youth age
out of foster care for a number of reasons. A large proportion of the youth who age out
of foster care entered the system during adolescence. Foster children ages 14 and over
rarely live in foster or pre-adoptive homes but instead are more likely to live in group
homes, institutions and, in some cases, supervised independent living settings. The
chances that adolescents in foster care will be adopted decreases as age increases.
Research shows that children who age out of foster care face many barriers to productive
adulthood (Wertheimer, 2002). In 1988, 38 percent of those that aged out of foster care
were emotionally disturbed, 50 percent used illegal drugs, and 25 percent were involved
with the legal system. Only 48 percent of the youth had graduated from high school.
Two years after leaving foster care only 38 percent of youth had stayed employed and
only 48 percent had ever held full-time jobs.
As the previous sections indicate, there is much evidence that adolescents and youth who
are disconnected from mainstream institutions and opportunities are likely suffer
significant, often long-term, negative effects as they enter adulthood. Many of these
youth may reconnect to education and/or identify ways they can be productive and
creative if given the opportunity to do so through alternative education strategies and
settings. Such schools and programs are intended to serve this population and there are a
variety of program models operating around the country.
There are no consistent estimates of the number of youth in alternative education
programs or schools. However, while data are generally not available about alternative
education programs outside the regular K-12 system, there are survey data on youth
enrolled in alternative education in or through public, private, and Catholic K-12 schools.
Alternative Schools ? Who is Being Reached?
Heeding the cautions raised about not creating dumping grounds for problem youth, it is
clear that mainstream education and public systems are not adequately meeting the needs
of all high-risk youth, and the difficulties vulnerable youth have in regular schools may
exacerbate their disconnections. Many alternative schools settings attempt to reach youth
who are outside the regular education system, whether they left the mainstream by choice
or through punishment strategies. High quality alternative environments can support the
positive development of truants, suspended or expelled students, students being
reintegrated from the juvenile justice system, and dropouts (Ingersoll & Leboeuf, 1997).
The nature of such settings (e.g., small class sizes, personalized attention, support
services) create environments in which these youth may be more comfortable and may
mean that youth pursue their education further as a result (see Exhibit 1 for an example of
how alternative schools assist youth in Iowa).
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
According to Iowa state code, school districts are required to provide dropouts
with alternative programming to assist them in completing a high school
education. As a result, 98 alternative schools have been developed to do just this
in 75 counties and across 294 school districts. Sixty-three districts collaborate
with community colleges to enhance high school education with career planning,
vocational training, work placement, and post secondary education planning.
The Iowa Association of Alternative Education reports about two-thirds of those
that graduate from the alternative school setting are employed, 37 percent go on
to some type of post secondary training, 3 to 4 percent are college students, and 3
to 4 percent are in the military. The unemployment rate for these graduates is not
different than the rate for graduates of traditional high schools. Further,
approximately 24 percent of the alternative school graduates are involved in
voting processes and volunteer organizations as compared to 14 percent of their
same age peer group in Iowa.
Source: Iowa Association of Alternative Education, 2002
Some alternative education programs are operated by or through regular schools or
school districts. Although they are rapidly growing in number throughout the United
States, the total number of operating alternative schools is unclear (Clearinghouse on
Education Management, accessed 2003). There is no comprehensive inventory of these
schools and no complete count of the number and types of youth attending them
(National Governor?s Association Center for Best Practices, 2001). However, the District
Survey of Alternative Schools and Programs supported by NCES is an important, though
limited source of data. The Survey documents the number and types of alternative
schools and programs for vulnerable youth available through the public school system
(Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). Although the survey leaves out alternative schools in
private and/or nonprofit settings, it represents the first survey ever of its kind.
Number of Alternative Schools through School Districts
Conducted in 2001, the Survey of Alternative Schools and Programs includes a nationally
representative sample of 1,534 public school districts. Students in alternative schools and
programs reported in this survey were generally there because they were at risk of failing,
as defined by poor grades, truancy, disruptive behavior, suspension, pregnancy, or other
factors known to be indicators of leaving school early.
Thirty-nine percent of public school districts had at least one alternative school or
program for at-risk students in grades 1 through 12 representing 10,900 such programs
during the 2000-01 school year (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). Of those districts
reporting at-risk programming, such programs were offered to secondary level students in
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
88 to 92 percent of the districts, to middle school level students in 46 to 67 percent of the
districts, and to elementary level students in 10 to 21 percent of the districts. Urban
school districts, districts with high minority student populations, and districts with high
poverty rates were more likely than other districts to have such programs. Over half of
these programs were delivered in separate facilities than in the regular school buildings
and 4 percent were in juvenile detention centers, 3 percent were in community centers,
and 1 percent were charter schools.
Despite the number of school districts with such programs, survey results indicate that
there does not seem to be enough alternative school and programming slots for the
number of youth who require them (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). Fifty-four percent
of school districts with such programming reported demand exceeded their capacity for
services within the last three years and thirty-three percent were unable to enroll new
students into the alternative educational options during the 1999-2000 school year. Most
districts resolved this short fall by developing waiting lists for their programs.
The Student Population in Alternative Schools
Students attending alternative school settings (whether through school districts or not)
have a number of characteristics that distinguish them from those in the mainstream
education system. Typical populations of students in alternatives schools are: dropouts,
students with disabilities, and students participating in health risk behaviors (Lange &
Sletten, 2002). About 200,000 students in public schools in grades 9-12 (about 1.3
percent of all students in those grades) were enrolled in such programs in October 2000
(Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). Of these, about 12 percent were special education
students. About 80,000 additional at-risk teens were in alternative education through
private and Catholic schools (Grunbaum, et al, 1999).
More youth attending alternative schools participate in health risk behaviors than youth in
mainstream education settings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
implements the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS), a biennial survey
conducted on odd years to assess the extent to which youth take health related risks. The
YRBS is a nationally representative sample of American students attending mainstream
educational settings. In 1998, the CDC included a special YRBS, interviewing a
nationally representative sample of youth attending alternative high schools in the United
States (Grunbaum et al., 1999). The sample included public, private, and Catholic
schools reporting having alternative education and at least one of grades 9-12. The
schools sampled also were not operating as a ?school within a school,? and reported
serving youth at risk for dropping out of regular high school. In total, 8,919 students
participated in the study in 115 schools. Five schools served pregnant teenagers, 13
schools served adjudicated students, 17 schools served students with emotional or
behavioral problems, and 80 served multiple types of students.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
The results of the 1998 YRBS of alternative schools are compared here to the results of
the 1997 YRBS of mainstream educational settings1 (Kann et al., 1998), highlighting the
relative severity of vulnerability and risk reported by students in alternative education:| Approximately 33 percent of alternative school students reported that they had
carried a weapon at least once during the 30 days before the survey, compared to
18 percent of students from mainstream settings.| About 15 percent of students in alternative schools carried guns while only 6
percent did so in mainstream settings.| Approximately 60 percent of students in alternative schools reported being in at
least one physical fight during the year before the survey compared to
approximately 37 percent of students in mainstream settings.| Approximately 11 percent of alternative school students reported they had missed
at least one day of school during the 30 days before the survey because they felt
unsafe at school or traveling to or from school, compared to only 4 percent of
students in mainstream settings.| Approximately 16 percent of alternative school students and 7 percent of
mainstream students had been threatened or injured with a weapon on school
property in the year before the survey.| Approximately 25 percent of alternative school students and 21 percent of
mainstream students had suicide ideation during the year before the survey.| About 16 percent of alternative school students and 8 percent of mainstream
students reported that they had attempted suicide one or more times the year
before the survey.| In alternative school settings, approximately 64 percent of the students had
smoked cigarettes on at least one of the 30 days before the survey and
approximately 45 percent of students had done so on 20 or more days of the past
30 days. In contrast, approximately 36 percent of the students in mainstream
settings had smoked cigarettes on at least one of the 30 days before the survey and
only 17 percent of students had done so on 20 or more days of the past 30 days.| Approximately 65 percent of the alternative school students reported having had
at least one drink of alcohol on at least one of the 30 days before the survey and
approximately 50 percent of students had drank 5 or more drinks in a row on one
or more days. Approximately 51 percent of the mainstream students had at least
one drink of alcohol on at least one of the 30 days before the survey and
approximately 33 percent of students had drank 5 or more drinks in a row on one
or more days.| Approximately, 53 percent of alternative school students reported using marijuana
one or more times during the 30 days before the survey and 26 percent of
mainstream students did the same.| Approximately 15 percent of alternative school students and 3 percent of
mainstream students reported using some form of cocaine one or more times
during the 30 days before survey.
1 The 1997 YRBS included a total of 16,262 students from 151 schools.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth| Approximately 88 percent of alternative school students and 48 percent of
mainstream students reported having had sexual intercourse during their lifetime.| Twenty-two percent of alternative school students had sexual intercourse before
age 13 and 50 percent had sexual intercourse with four or more partners. In
contrast, 7 percent of mainstream students had sexual intercourse before age 13
and 16 percent had sexual intercourse with four or more partners.2| Thirty percent of alternative school students and 7 percent of mainstream students
reported they had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant.
The above data highlight the vulnerability of youth who attend alternative schools. These
youth encounter problems with violence, substance use, and risky sexual behavior as well
as pregnancy. The issues they face should not be ignored by the systems serving them.
Alternative Schools as Service Providers
Recognizing the special needs of the student population in alternative schools for at-risk
and vulnerable youth, many schools become service providers or facilitate services
provided outside the school setting. Having youth enrolled in the alternative setting
creates a genuine opportunity to reach out to the youth and address needs whether they
are related to family environments, educational problems, or health issues.
The points at which youth disconnect from typical developmental pathways and the
problems they encounter with health risk behaviors represent points of service and
collaboration for alternative schools and programs interviewed in the NCES Survey of
Public Alternative School Programs (Kleiner, Porch, & Farris, 2002). Although not all
such programs participated in collaborations to address the needs of their students:| 84 percent collaborate with the juvenile justice system,| 75 percent collaborate with mental health agencies,| 70 percent collaborate with law enforcement,| 69 percent collaborate with child protective services,| 65 percent collaborate with health and human services agencies or hospitals,| 59 percent collaborate with substance abuse treatment agencies,| 47 percent collaborate with crisis intervention centers,| 46 percent collaborate with family planning/child care/child placement agencies,
and| 40 percent collaborate with job placement agencies.
Importantly, 72 percent of public alternative schools and programs reported collaborating
with five or more other community agencies in providing services to their students.
2 Youth who have sex before age 14 are much more likely than youth who initiate sexual intercourse later
in adolescence to have done so involuntarily (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994). As a result, a large number
of youth attending alternative schools may have experienced sexual victimization.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
While not all students in public alternative schools are offered connections to services
that could help them, many schools try to provide such assistance. If alternative school
settings are sincerely attempting to meet the needs of the student population, then
connections to service providers seem critical to assist youth in overcoming their barriers
to education.
Extent of Need
Thus, disconnected?at risk, vulnerable?youth are a primary target group for alternative
education schools and programs. There is a general sense in the youth development
community that there is a great need for alternative education for 16 to 24 year old
vulnerable youth, and that currently much of the need is not being met. While there are
no precise estimates of the need, very rough calculations using Census and other
available data confirm that the scope of the problem is indeed large, particularly for those
16 to 24 year olds who are not enrolled in school and do not have a high school diploma
or GED.
There are no consistent estimates of the number of disconnected youth, mainly because
various analysts and experts focus on different dimensions of the issue and population?
by age group, school enrollment, economic status, or developmental stages, for example.
To help provide an idea of the potential scale of the problem among 16 to 24 year olds,
rough calculations were made, extrapolating from existing relevant data and research.3
In general, based on literature and research, the percentage of youth that might be
considered high risk, disconnected or vulnerable, ranges from a low estimate of about 13
percent to a high estimate of perhaps 30 percent. This suggests 5 to 10 million 16 to 24
year olds may be disconnected, split about evenly between 16 to 19 year olds and 20 to
24 year olds.
Presumably, all these vulnerable youth might benefit from special interventions or
services, either in regular high schools or alternative schools and programs. Based on
literature and reports, it appears, though, that only a small share of these vulnerable youth
are receiving alternative education, and that services for the older group of vulnerable
youth is particularly limited (see Exhibit 2).
3 These calculations were made using a number of assumptions and extrapolating from available data: (A)
16 to 19 year olds?perhaps 2-5 million 16 to 19 year olds (13-30% of all 16 to 19 year olds) are
?vulnerable? (e.g., 13% of 17 year olds are functionally illiterate and 30% of 8th graders are below basic
math/reading levels [NAEP]); about 280,000 high school students (1.3% of all students grade 9-12) are in
alternative education in public, private and Catholic schools (ALT-YRBS 1998 and NCES Survey 2002-
2004); fewer than 1 million 16 to 19 year olds are in non-school alternative education (51,000 in Job Corps;
80,000 in juvenile residential facilities; and perhaps 50,000 [assumes 1.3% of all out-of school 16 to 19
year olds] may be in community based organization or other programs). (B) 20 to 24 year olds?2.5
million 20 to 24 year olds (13% of all 20 to 24 year olds) are not in school and lack a high school diploma
or GED (Census); fewer than 100,000 are in alternative education (45,000 in Job Corps, and perhaps
30,000 [assumes 1.3% of all 20 to 24 year olds not in school and lacking a high school diploma or GED] in
community based organization or other programs).
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
16-19 year olds at risk 20-24 year olds at risk
Total estimated number of at risk youth| Estimated number of at-risk youth in
alternative programs through public, private,
Catholic regular schools| Estimated number of at-risk youth in
education at Job Corps centers| Estimated number of at-risk youth in
education at Juvenile Justice residential
facilities| Estimated number of at-risk youth in other
alternative education (e.g., CBOs, treatment
facilities, etc.)
2 to 5 million (100%)
280,000 (6-14% of all
at-risk youth)
51,000 (3-9% of all atrisk
80,000 (2-4% of all atrisk
50,000 (approximate)
(1-3% of all at-risk
2 to 5 million (100%)
0 (0% of all at-risk
45,000 (2-9% of all atrisk
0 (0% of all at-risk
50,000 (approximate)
(1-3% of all at-risk
Total approximate number of at risk youth in
alternative education (% of all at-risk)
~500,000 (10-25% of
all at-risk youth)
~100,000 (2-5% of all
at-risk youth)
This suggests that of the approximately 5 to 10 million 16 to 24 year olds who might be
considered ?high-risk? (e.g., basic skills deficient, high school dropouts, out of school
and not employed) fewer than 1 million (or 10 to 20 percent) are currently in alternative
education programs or schools.
Many youth are disconnected from mainstream agencies and typical developmental
pathways leaving them vulnerable to economic and social hardship. These youth are at
risk of not completing high school and/or being limited in the extent to which they can
fulfill adult roles and responsibilities.
Some alternative school settings may be one way vulnerable youth become disconnected
from mainstream agencies. These settings may be used as ways to divert problematic
youth from mainstream schools and programs. However, other alternative school
settings may be a way for youth to reconnect to their education to improve their chances
of successful transition to adulthood. Although no comprehensive inventory of both
public and private alternative school settings exists, these programs have been on the rise.
It is clear that despite increases in such programming, the vast majority of youth in need
of alternative approaches to education are not currently being reached.
Because alternative schools are a relatively new approach to addressing the needs of
vulnerable youth, a number of questions remain about how they affect the system, the
scope of their reach, and their utility in assisting youth who are at risk. Important issues
to consider include:
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
as shown there is no comprehensive inventory of alternative
approaches for vulnerable youth. Outstanding questions include: How many
he| represent
barriers or opportunities to educational success. To what extent are youth who are| e that the movement toward high
stakes testing, similar to zero-tolerance policies regarding behavior, contributes to
The reviews in the previous sections of this chapter confirm the severity of the problem.
any youth development experts believe that students who leave the education system
ntal stages and risk factors that hinder
ositive development, less is known about how many alternative education programs and
th| This review h
alternative schools and programs are there in the country, including both pu
and private schools, and nonprofit community-based organizations? What is t
extent of need relative to the number of options available to youth?
It is critical to review the extent to which alternative school settings
expelled from mainstream settings allowed to re-enroll in regular school? How
many expelled youth do not have alternative schools as options? Are alternative
approaches effective at reconnecting youth to mainstream systems and agencies
and should this be the goal for such settings?
Some experts and observers in the field believ
vulnerable youth being pushed out of mainstream schools. Does high stakes
testing in schools affect the number of youth being transferred out of mainstream
settings, the number of youth graduating from school, and/or the number of yo
dropping out of school? If so, how does this affect schools and vulnerable youth?
What are the unintended consequences and benefits of high stakes testing for
high-risk youth?
early as a result of choice or punishment become disconnected from society, losing much
more than their diploma and a chance for economic productivity (Fred Newman of the
Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools as seen in Boss, 1998). It is
important to keep these children in school as the cost of such problems, to society and to
the youth themselves, is high. Youth without adequate skills will lack the ability to
successfully transition to independent adulthood and to maintain secure employment.
They advocate that as a society we must recognize that school failure translates into
failure (Coalition for Juvenile Justice, 2001).
While much is known about youth developme
schools currently exist, how many students attend the programs and schools, how
alternative education schools, programs, and strategies are addressing the educational and
developmental needs of youth, or how effective they are in terms of improving you
outcomes. Filling these research gaps would help identify appropriate policies and
strategies to meet this great societal need.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Although the term ?alternative education? covers all educational activities that fall
outside the traditional K-12 school system (including home schooling, GED preparation
programs, special programs for gifted children, charter schools, etc), the focus here is on
those serving school-aged vulnerable youth who have dropped (or been pushed) out of
traditional schools. Ironically, many of these programs are associated with unsuccessful
students and are thought to be dumping grounds for ?problem? youth, and yet because
they represent a departure from the standard approach to schooling, many alternative
education programs are known for their innovation and creativity. High quality
alternative education programs are generally known for their adherence to youth
development principles (Smith & Thomases, 2001; NGA Center for Best Practices, 2001)
such as: (1) physical and psychological safety (e.g., safe facilities, safe ways to handle
conflicts between youth, etc.); (2) appropriate structure (limit setting, clear rules,
predictable structure to how program functions, etc.); (3) supportive relationships
(warmth, closeness etc., with adults and peers); (4) opportunities to belong (meaningful
inclusion); (5) positive social norms (expectations of behaviors, etc.); (6) support for
efficacy and mattering (empowering youth, challenging environment, chances for
leadership, etc.); (7) opportunities for skill building (e.g., learning about social,
communication skills, etc., as well as media literacy, good habits of the mind, etc.); and
(8) integration of family, school, and especially community efforts (National Research
Council and Institute of Medicine, 2001). The best programs also address the specific
needs of children from various racial and ethnic groups and those with special needs
(including students with learning or other disabilities that have not yet been identified).
Given their importance in the public education system, states and communities are
increasingly turning their attention to alternative education issues, and want much more
information than is currently available (National Association of State Boards of
Education, 1996; North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, undated). Even with
a general focus on programs serving disconnected and vulnerable youth, most current
discussions of ?alternative education? quickly turn to the question of ?exactly who (or
what) are we talking about?? Are we including children in regular K-12 public schools
who participate in some type of special programming because they are delinquent, or
pregnant, or at risk of dropping out? What about children who are being schooled in
juvenile justice facilities or emergency homeless shelters? How about youth for whom
the regular public schools simply do not seem to work? Basic questions such as these
arise when discussing ?alternative education? because there is no commonly-accepted, or
commonly-understood, definition of what constitutes ?alternative education.? In part this
reflects the newness of the field (at least as an area that is attracting widespread and
mainstream interest), the variety of environments and contexts in which alternative
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
education programming has evolved, and the many sub-groups of vulnerable youth who
might benefit from some type of alternative education, broadly defined.
This chapter synthesizes existing knowledge, definitions, and themes about alternative
education programs, based on a review of literature and reports. It is intended that this
knowledge can serve as a starting point for establishing common terminologies to
characterize the various kinds of alternative education programs, and to develop a basic
typology ? that is a classification of the various kinds of alternative education based on
certain common characteristics. Ideally, it would be useful to have a single definitive
definition of alternative education that is broad and flexible enough to support a variety
of purposes (such as conducting needs assessments, educating policymakers, projecting
staffing needs, tracking expenditures, etc.) and specific enough to be useful for any one
of these purposes. Whether such a definition will ever be developed is unclear, but a
typology could be extremely helpful in establishing common terminology and for
understanding the different kinds of alternative education.
Such a typology could also contribute to the body of knowledge about effective and high
qualilty alternative education. Vulnerable youth who are disconnected (or disconnecting)
from mainstream schools need and deserve to have high-quality alternative education, as
do all youth. By including in a typology factors associated with quality and
effectiveness, policy makers, practioners, and funders may be better able to help promote
the expansion of high-quality approaches and improve or eliminate low-quality
Interestingly, many of the very first alternative education programs in this country
defined themselves in opposition to the existing educational system. These included
schools in the Free School Movement, schools that promoted progressive ideals by
emphasizing individual child-centered achievement and fulfillment, and Freedom
Schools that were designed to offer high quality educational opportunities to children
who were being poorly served by existing public schools, namely minority students
(Lange & Sletten, 2002). Many of these schools did not survive over time, and this has
resulted in a shift in the types of alternative education options available to students:
many alternative schools today are more likely to be viewed by public education systems
as disciplinary and/or remedial in nature.
Yet, as alternative education programs have evolved and matured, they have provided
lessons not only about how to re-connect with disenfranchised youth, but also how
regular schools can avoid disconnection in the first place. Indeed as Raywid has pointed
out, ?many of the reforms currently pursued in traditional schools?downsizing the high
school, pursuing a focus or theme, students and teacher choice, making the school a
community, empowering staff, active learner engagement, authentic assessment?are
practices that alternative schools pioneered? (1994, p.26). The primary focus of this
review are those programs designed to serve vulnerable children and youth who have
either dropped or been pushed out of traditional schools, or are at risk of doing so. The
fact that regular school systems often still consider alternative schools as disciplinary
even as some alternative education approaches have been incorporated into some regular
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
schools is important to bear in mind as future policy and practice decisions about
expanding high-quality options for disconnected youth are made.
Thus, the main goal of this compilation is to document what is known, and lay the
groundwork for developing a more comprehensive and useful framework, or typology,
for understanding the many types of alternative education programs that exist and may
need to be developed. It is important to take stock of what we know, assessing what we
know clearly and realistically, and advance this knowledge to forge effective policies for
the future.
This review begins by considering how alternative education has been defined and
described in this literature, including examples of legal definitions from state law, as well
as more general operational definitions. Then some of the many dimensions along which
alternative education models/programs have been developed are examined (e.g., who is
served through the programs, where are they located, what is their focus or content, how
are they administered). Next, some of the preliminary ?typologies? that have been
developed to date are examined. The review concludes by presenting some of the many
?lists? of characteristics shared by promising alternative education programs, noting how
similar the various lists of desirable features are. Future studies designed to evaluate the
effectiveness of alternative education programs would do well to use these common
features as a starting point for identifying qualities associated with program effectiveness.
The literature on alternative education programs includes a number of historical,
legalistic, and operational definitions. For example:| Morley (1991) draws on a number of writers to define alternative education in
terms of socialization and public good ??Alternative education is a perspective,
not a procedure or program. It is based upon a belief that there are many ways to
become educated, as well as many types of environments and structures within
which this may occur. Further, it recognizes that all people can be educated and
that it is in society's interest to ensure that all are educated to at least...[a] general
high school... level. To accomplish this requires that we provide a variety of
structures and environments such that each person can find one that is sufficiently
comfortable to facilitate progress" (p. 8).| Statutorily, an alternative education program is defined under s. 115.28 (7) (e),
Wis. Stats. as ?an instructional program, approved by the school board, that
utilizes successful alternative or adaptive school structures and teaching
techniques and that is incorporated into existing, traditional classrooms or
regularly scheduled curricular programs or that is offered in place of regularly
scheduled curricular programs. Alternative education does not include a private
school or a home-based private educational program.? (State of Wisconsin 2001,
p. 2)
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth| There are some definitions that delineate alternative education further to reflect
particular purposes, particularly in relation to regular schools. For example, the
Iowa Association of Alternative Education's (IAAE) Constitution and Bylaws,
Article II states:
o Alternative Education: the study or practice of implementing alternative
schools or programs. Public alternative education serves to ensure that
every young person may find a path to the educational goals of the
community. Alternative schools and programs focus on what they can
offer the student, not on what problems the student has had in the past.
Alternative education is a vital component of the total educational system.
o Alternative School: an established environment apart from the regular
school. With policies and rules, educational objectives, staff and
resources designed to accommodate student needs, an alternative school
provides a comprehensive education consistent with the goals established
by the school district. Students attend via choice.
o Alternative Program: an established class or environment within or apart
from the regular school. An alternative program is designed to
accommodate specific student educational needs such as work-related
training, reading, mathematics, science, communication, social skills,
physical skills, employability skills, study skills, or life skills.
o Regular School: an established environment designed to provide a
comprehensive education to the general populace to which assignment of
students is made more on the basis of geographical location than unique
education need."
Interestingly, while regular schools are primarily based on geography, the types of
programs, curricula, and schools within the traditional K-12 system have also grown in
recent years. Defining what constitutes ?regular? schooling has grown more complex, so
it should come as no surprise that defining alternative education is a challenge. One
description of how alternative education is provided incorporates multiple perspectives
about how to define the concept ? ?Three avenues for presenting alternative education
can be identified across school systems:| Alternative schools - both public and private| Alternative programs for students using varying approaches for students to pursue
common goals with the same school| Teaching strategies, beliefs and support services that facilitate growth in
academic, personal/social and career development initiatives?
Often states and communities have statutory requirements governing the (minimum
and/or maximum) numbers of students an alternative education program or school can
have, the type of curriculum that can be used, who can teach the program, the length of
the school day, attendance policies, participation in state-wide student achievement tests,
and other similar issues. In practice, alternative education programs and schools are
defined and designed along a variety of often overlapping dimensions including who is
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
served, where it operates, what the program offers, and how it is structured or
administered (including who operates it and how it is funded). Each of these dimensions
is discussed further below. Recognizing that there may not yet be a common definition
for the distinction between program and school, and acknowledging that alternative
education may ideally be considered a ?perspective? important in any school, the term
alternative education program is generally used in the remainder of this chapter.
Who: The Population
Many alternative education programs target specific groups of youth, particularly those
considered ?at-risk,? which is the main focus here. The targeting is generally what makes
such programs ?alternative,? and the circumstances or needs of the targeted group are
what drive the curriculum or approach. Examples of such target groups for whom
alternative education is often established include:| women/girls| pregnant/parenting teens| suspended/expelled students| recovered drop-outs| delinquent teens| low-achievers, and| all at-risk4 youth.
Where: Operational Setting
Alternative education programs can be physically (and administratively) located in many
different places, and sometimes the location is what makes the program ?alternative.?
Two related operational aspects that describe alternative education programs are first,
how the alternative program relates to regular education, and second, where the
programming actually occurs.
In relation to regular K-12 schools, alternative education programs may include the
following, presented in order of organizational proximity to traditional classrooms in
regular K-12 schools:
4 The term ?at-risk? encompasses a wide array of youth who either engage in negative or high-risk
activities, or who are growing up with disadvantages that ?limit the development of their potential,
compromise their health, impair their sense of self, and generally restrict their chances for successful lives?
(Kids Count, 1999). Note that risk factors can come from school- and community-level circumstances, as
well as individual- and family-level circumstances. Examples of specific risk factors are poor school
attendance, failing grades, family crisis, referred to but did not qualify for special education services,
social/emotional/medical issues, free/reduced lunch, below-average performance on assessments, discipline
problems, drug and alcohol issues, criminal behavior, poor peer relationships, rated ?high? on teachergenerated
at-risk profile, retained or considered for retention, and significant deficiencies in credits. For
another, more extensive list of circumstances that place students at risk, see Appendix A.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth| resource rooms (separate room/teacher provides additional services like study
skills, guidance, anger management, small group/individual instruction)| pull-out programs (within the day or even after-school, students are pulled out of
their ?regular? program -- e.g., regular school, juvenile detention center,
substance abuse treatment facility -- for special or alternative instruction)| schools-within-a-school (special-focus program within a school)| separate self-contained alternative school
The operational setting, or location, where the actual alternative education takes place is
somewhat related to the program?s connection to a regular school, but there is variation.
For example, a school-within-a school may be physically located with a regular K-12
school, or it might be located in a separate building. Separate alternative education
programs not under the sponsorship of a school are more likely to be located separately,
but some programs have arrangements to operate in school buildings. A few examples of
where alternative programs or schools are located, include:| regular schools during school hours| school buildings during non-school hours| community or recreation centers| former school buildings| juvenile justice corrections or detention centers| store-front neighborhood organizations| public housing projects| homeless shelters (emergency and transitional)| medical or mental health facilities| community college or other post-secondary campuses
What: Content and Objectives
Alternative education programs also differ from traditional education in what types of
credentials, services, and programming they provide, and how. Many different types of
credentials may be offered, including:| Regular high school diplomas| General Educational Development (GED) diplomas, or| Occupational and skills certification
The content of the programming often varies depending on the type of credential offered
(if one is offered) but many of them are focused on relaying to their students basic skills.
This is because the programs are often short and there is not enough time to cover
significant amounts of theory; many students lack basic skills, so that becomes the
primary focus of instruction; and specific skills are often what the students want to learn.
In addition to basic life skills, many alternative education programs emphasize career
development or employment preparation and provide students multiple career pathway
options, including:
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth| Career awareness/choices workshops| Occupational exploration programs| Apprenticeships| Modified work/study programs| Speakers? bureau| Work visitations| Tech-Prep (technical preparation in partnership with a community college)| Vocational/technical training| School to work programs| Work experience| Internships
?What? alternative education programs do or what they offer has been used as a basis for
several classifications developed to date. One commonly cited three-level classification
is that developed by Dr. Mary Anne Raywid. Raywid?s typology has been described
(Appalachia Educational Laboratory, 1998) as follows:| ?Type I schools offer full-time, multiyear, education options for students of all
kinds, including those needing more individualization, those seeking an
innovative or challenging curriculum, or dropouts wishing to earn their diplomas.
A full instructional program offers students the credits needed for graduation.
Students choose to attend. Other characteristics include divergence from standard
school organization and practices (deregulation, flexibility, autonomy, and teacher
and student empowerment); an especially caring, professional staff; small size and
small classes; and a personalized, whole-student approach that builds a sense of
affiliation and features individual instruction, self-paced work, and career
counseling. Models range from schools-within-schools to magnet schools, charter
schools, schools without walls, experiential schools, career-focused and job-based
schools, dropout-recovery programs, after-hours schools, and schools in atypical
settings like shopping malls and museums.| Discipline is the distinguishing characteristic of Type II programs, which aim to
segregate, contain, and reform disruptive students. Students typically do not
choose to attend, but are sent to the school for specified time periods or until
behavior requirements are met. Since placement is short-term, the curriculum is
limited to a few basic, required courses or is entirely supplied by the "home
school" as a list of assignments. Familiar models include last-chance schools and
in-school suspension.| Type III programs provide short-term but therapeutic settings for students with
social and emotional problems that create academic and behavioral barriers to
learning. Although Type III programs target specific populations?offering
counseling, access to social services, and academic remediation?students can
choose not to participate.?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Raywid?s first group of programs, thus, includes many of the original types of alternative
education for at-risk youth established in the U.S., and these are often referred to as
?popular innovations? or ?true educational alternatives.? Programs for high school
dropouts or potential dropouts and sponsored by school districts, for example, would fit
into this category, as would programs for students unable to pass standardized tests (a
new trend within the alternative education field).
The other two types of alternative education developed by Raywid are more correctional
in focus, with one being primarily disciplinary (?last chance? or ?soft jail? programs) the
other, therapeutic (?treatment? programs). Most, but not all, current programs that fall
into these two categories operate separately from regular schools, although some are
sponsored by a school district.
Raywid finds the first group of programs (the true educational alternatives) to be the most
successful, while alternative discipline programs are much less likely to lead to
substantial student gains. The outcomes for the last group of therapeutic programs are
more mixed with students often making progress while enrolled, but regressing when
they return to a traditional school. It may be that therapeutic programs have limited longterm
impact on academic gains because they are often short-term. Their effectiveness
might be better if youth receive high-quality therapeutic programs well-suited to meet
individual needs, while they also receive educational instruction, and they remain in the
program for a relatively long period of time (e.g., two years or more).
Interestingly, many experts see the distinctions between some of these types beginning to
blur as more alternative education programs are using a mix of strategies and/or
addressing multiple objectives. Type I and Type II schools, for example, are increasingly
likely to offer clinical counseling, a Type III characteristic. A more recent three-level
classification, also advanced by Raywid, therefore, combines Types II and III into a
single group whose focus is on ?changing the student.? A second grouping is focused on
?changing the school? and is analogous to the first type described above, and a newlydefined
third group is focused on ?changing the educational system? more broadly. This
last group has been described as follows:
?According to Raywid (1999), ?early efforts at using alternatives as a means of
introducing systemwide change? (in Minneapolis, Tacoma, and Berkeley) have
generated numerous options and some positive signs of success. Seeing small
schools and innovative alternatives as sharing the same characteristics, she says ?the
small schools and schools-within-schools movement occurring in the nation's cities
today is actually a test of whether small alternatives can survive in large systems? and
can adapt those systems to support such innovation.? (Hadderman undated).
Another classification described by the Wisconsin Department of Instruction is similarly
based on what an alternative education program does, and categorizes programs based on
their focus on students? behavior, interest, or functional level:
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
?An alternative education program is often defined by the program?s characteristics,
such as programs that focus on behavior, interest, or functional level. Behavioral
programming might be designed for students who need a structured setting to focus
on more appropriate school behaviors to facilitate their learning and the learning of
others. Programs designed around student interest might include an environmental
program or vocational academies. Functional-level programs might include high
school completion, academic, or skill remediation? (State of Wisconsin 2001, p. 2).
A final promising typology is one that centers on students? educational needs. Rather
than focusing on a student?s demographic characteristics or programmatic category, this
typology focuses on the educational problems or challenges students present.5 These
include programs for:| Students who have fallen ?off track? simply because they have gotten into trouble
(because adolescents tend to be adolescents) and need (short-term) systems of
recovery to get them back into high schools. The goal of getting them back into
regular high schools is appropriate and realistic for this group.| Students who are prematurely transitioning to adulthood either because they are
(about to become) parents, or have home situations that do not allow them to
attend school regularly (e.g., immigrant children taking care of siblings while
their parents work, those coming out of the juvenile justice system with many
demands on their time, etc.).| Students who are substantially off track educationally, but are older and are
returning to obtain the credits they need to transition into community colleges (or
other programs) very rapidly. These include, for example, older individuals who
are just a few credits away from graduation (many of whom dropped out at age 16
or 17), or are transitioning out of the jail system, or have had a pregnancy and are
now ready to complete their secondary schooling. (This is the group that is
currently populating most alternative education programs in large urban areas?
they are very diverse and tend to be well served by the alternative school system.)| Finally, there is a group of students who are substantially behind educationally?
they have significant problems, very low reading levels, and are often way over
age for grade. Many of these children have been retained repeatedly and a
number of them have come out of special education services. They include 17- or
18-year-olds with third and fourth grade reading levels who have never graduated
from 8th grade (or who have gone to high school for a few years but have never
actually accumulated any credits). This is a very large group of kids, and most
school systems do not have any programs that can serve meet their needs.
With this typology in mind, it is clear that programs targeted at particular demographic
group, such as pregnant and parenting teens, could be serving kids with a wide variety of
educational needs: those who are two credits away from graduation; those who are wards
5 This typology was suggested by Melissa Roderick of the University of Chicago at a daylong roundtable
on alternative education sponsored by the C.S. Mott Foundation and held at the Urban Institute in
Washington, D.C. on May 13, 2003.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
of child welfare agencies and who have multiple problems such as being far over age for
grade, and with only third and fourth-grade education levels; others who are pregnant and
parenting but also involved in the juvenile justice system; and yet others with significant
behavioral problems. So a single school or program is being expected to handle too
much educational diversity (one that regular schools are unable to handle well), and this
may be setting the programs (and their students) up for educational failure.
How: Administration and Funding
In addition to ?who,? ?where,? and ?what,? some of the literature on alternative education
describes ?how? alternative education programs are administered or funded. The
administrative dimension is somewhat related to other features of alternative education,
but considering it separately helps clarify another aspect of what makes alternative
education programs ?alternative.?
Alternative education programs are sponsored or administered by a variety of entities
including:| non-profit and community-based organizations (CBOs)| state or local education agencies| charter schools| adult education divisions or agencies| juvenile justice agencies| K-12 public or private schools| health or mental health institutions| federally-funded programs and contractors (e.g., for Job Corps)| private for-profit companies
In addition to serving different types of students (?who?) in different locations (where),
many alternative education programs have different policies and administrative
procedures than those typically found in regular K-12 schools. For example, some
maintain hours and schedules that are non-traditional in the context of regular schools,
have open admission and exit policies, and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the
student. Alternative education programs often also have strong connections to the world
of work (NGA Center for Best Practices, 2001), which can mean policies and
administration that are more similar to those in the workplace (e.g., work teams,
supervisors, time cards, or scheduling academic instruction in conjunction with work or
apprenticeships). As in regular education settings, alternative programs also vary
tremendously in their academic standards, structure and accountability mechanisms, basic
goals and objectives, parent and community involvement, disciplinary policies, and crisis
intervention procedures (National Association of State Boards of Education, 1996).
No specific literature was located that relates specifically to administrative accountability
in alternative education. There are, though, special issues to consider in this area, mainly
because accountability and outcome measures used in mainstream schools are not always
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
appropriate for alternative education. For example, using graduation from high school or
completion of a degree is not relevant for an alternative education program that is mainly
transitional in nature (e.g., aims to transition students back into regular schools or out of a
special program such as juvenile detention or a treatment center). Alternative education
accountability measures should include shorter-term measures and measures that track
continuous ?added value? or recognize that some youth may cycle in and out of a
program before experiencing steady progress. Other performance outcomes might
include measures of student motivation, learning to learn, and ability to master content.
Presumably, program administrators and agencies sponsoring alternative education
programs do have some type of internal management information, and it can be expected
that as the field continues to develop, more reports and documents will be produced on
this topic.
Not surprisingly, funding structures among alternative education programs are also
highly variable:
?Most alternative education programs? budgets are based on a variety of unreliable
funding sources, such as grants, charitable contributions, and fees for service. Some
alternative education programs may also receive state and local education funds?
although these funds are often less than the per-pupil funding that traditional schools
receive.? (NGA Center, 2001)
No published reports were found that itemized the costs of programs or the distribution of
funds used for particular programs. But here, again, this information undoubtedly exists
at the program or agency level, even though no specific studies or literature were found.
Questions of interest include: Are the actual costs of educating our most vulnerable
youth different than those for other children? How does the multiplicity of funding
sources affect the integrity of alternative education programs?does it allow a more
flexible use of the funding since restrictions linked to one source may not apply to
another, or does it undermine the program by creating fiscal uncertainty and
administrative complexity?
This section summarized a few key issues identified in a review of literature about
alternative education. Various definitions of alternative education were identified,
including distinctions among alternative education schools, programs, and perspectives
(for example, towards differentiated alternative education within a regular school). The
review also was used to describe alternative education along four dimensions: (1) ?who?
programs target, (2) ?what? content is included, (3) ?where? the programs operate, and
(4) ?how? programs are administered and funded. A clearer understanding of the many
dimensions of alternative education efforts can help in the development of a typology
even if the typology does not map onto any one of these dimensions perfectly. These
dimensions are important to understand because developing a variety of high-quality
alternative education options ? options that meet the needs of all youth who are not
being well served by traditional public schools ? will necessarily include programs and
schools that serve children with different needs/characteristics (?who?), are located in
different places (?where?), provide different types of certificates, diplomas, and
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
programming (?what?), and are structured, administered, and funded in different ways
according to the best needs and interests of students and the community (?how?).
Whether a single typology can support the many applications for which it might be used
(program development, fundraising, research and evaluation, etc.) is still unclear.
There is little rigorous evaluation research documenting the effectiveness of alternative
education programs, meaning studies that can link specific program characteristics with
specific student outcomes. As with other fields of inquiry in their early stages, much of
the literature on alternative education presents features or characteristics thought to be
essential to the success of alternative education efforts. In many reports there are lists of
important characteristics or ?best practices.? As Lange and Sletten (2002) note, ?whether
these points of best practice are, indeed, ?practice? for most existing alternatives is a
matter yet to be thoroughly documented. However, the lists do provide a glimpse of
elements many researchers and advocates see as important descriptors of effective
alternative schools.? Therefore, this section simply presents some of the many ?lists?
found in the literature, in part because they represent a succinct summary of what some
observers and practitioners believe are the keys to successful alternative education
efforts, which may be useful in the future when considering formal evaluation strategies.
There is a high level of overlap among the lists (even for programs of different types),
suggesting that there is some degree of consensus about critical features of high quality
alternative education. It is also important to note, however, that the lists include many
factors that are considered critical to effective education and schools, in general. One
challenge will be to distinguish those that are unique to alternative education and those
that apply to all education.
Land and Sletton (2002) summarize the essential characteristics of effective alternative
education as follows:| ?clearly identified goals to inform both evaluation and enrollment (Gregg, 1999);| wholehearted implementation without a piecemeal approach to structuring
programs (Raywid, 1993);| autonomy (Gregg, 1999);| student-centered atmosphere (Frymier, 1987);| integration of research and practice in areas such as assessment, curriculum,
teacher competencies, and integration of special education services (Geurin &
Denti, 1999);| training and support for teachers who work with at-risk populations with or
without disabilities (Ashcroft, 1999; Krovetz, 1999); and| links to multiple agencies, an element that may become increasingly important as
alternatives are required to serve students with special education needs (Dynarski
& Gleason, 1998; Leone & Drakeford, 1999).?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Based on ?a growing body of research pointing to the characteristics shared by successful
alternative education programs and schools,? the National Association of State Boards of
Education (1996) reports that ?the success of these programs has been measured in terms
of improved grades, school attendance, and graduation rates; decreases in disruptive
and/or violent behaviors and suspensions; and an improved sense of direction and self
among participating students.? The characteristics they identify include:| ?High Academic Standards/Expectations ? Researchers have consistently found
that successful programs/schools set clear and high education standards and
expectations for their students. The curriculum in these programs is not diluted or
?watered down.? Furthermore, the curricula is often expanded to enhance the
educational and vocational interests of the students.| High Standards for Interpersonal/Social Interactions ? Successful alternative
education programs/schools have well defined standards of behaviors. And in
addition to having strict and clear expectations that are consistently applied to
everyone, successful alternative programs/schools rely on interventions and an
expanded curricula that foster the development of interpersonal and social skills.
Most address issues such as family life, peer pressure, and conflict resolution.| Student-Centered Education and Intervention Plans ? Successful
programs/schools have their structure, curricula, and support services designed
with both the educational and social needs of the students in mind. Therefore, it
is imperative that alternative programs/schools provide the assessment and
support services needed to clearly identify and address the cognitive, emotional,
health and socio-economic factors affecting the education and development of
participating students.| Teacher/Student Ratio ? Research findings also indicate that low teacher/student
ratios are important to the success of alternative education efforts. Ranging from
8-25 students per teacher, successful efforts have an average ratio of 1-16.| Site-Based Management/Flexibility ? While having clear and strong
accountability measurements and systems, successful alternative programs and
schools are often free from centralized management. Administrators, teachers,
support services staff, students, and parents are involved in the different aspects of
the programs/schools that they participate in. This work is done through
issue/task specific committees or what could be described as ?quality circles.?| Parent and Community Involvement ? Parent and community involvement is
critical for the success of alternative programs/schools. All of the programs and
schools identified in various research projects noted that the parents of
prospective students must agree to participate in clearly defined ways beyond
parent-teacher meetings. Some require that parents volunteer some of their time
to the program/school, others that they participate in family life seminars.| A Program versus a School ? Many successful alternative education efforts are
designed specifically as either programs or schools. Programs are intended for
students who may need short term interventions to get through a particular
problem or situation that is having a negative impact on their education. They are
designed with the goal of helping the student get back in the ?regular? school
setting as soon the presenting problem or situation is addressed and corrected. On
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
the other hand, schools are designed for students that for one reason or another are
better off obtaining an education outside the traditional school setting. Often,
these schools include students who must work to help support themselves and
their families, or students who need specialized services and interventions but
who can meet high education standards.| Location ? In some instances the location of the alternative education program or
school has proven critical to its success. Programs are often set within a
traditional school. At times they are located within a community school or
agency. On the other hand, most alternative schools have their own facilities,
share a facility with a larger school, or are located within community colleges or a
university campus. Regardless of the location, successful programs and schools
provide healthy physical environments that foster education, emotional wellbeing,
a sense of pride, and safety.?
Leone and Drakeford (1999) describe Schorr?s (1997) summary of ?an emerging
consensus about what elements are needed for alternative programs to be successful? as
follows:| ?Clear Focus on Academic Learning ? The most promising schools have a clear
focus on academic learning that combines high academic standards with engaging
and creative instruction.| Ambitious Professional Development ? Successful schools provide teachers with
stimulating, ongoing professional development activities that help teachers to
maintain an academic focus, enhance teaching strategies, and develop alternative
instructional methods. Properly designed staff development involves teacher
input, work with colleagues, and opportunities to visit and observe teaching in
other settings. When given opportunities to examine differences between
instructional aspirations and actual practice, teachers will achieve what they
aspire to do, provided that they have adequate staff development and support.| Strong Level of Autonomy and Professional Decision-Making ? Partly in
response to sluggish and inefficient bureaucracies, reformers in education and
social services believe that effective service delivery requires decision making at
the service delivery level (Schorr 1997; Fullan and Hargreaves 1996). Decisions
about staffing, leadership, budgets, scheduling, curriculum, and pedagogy need to
be made by teaching and support staff who have direct contact with students.
Effective schools provide autonomy that builds trust and loyalty among staff.
Further, giving staff a voice in decision making promotes creativity and
instructional excellence (Collins and Tamarkin 1990).| Sense of Community ? Research suggests that schools that focus on the creation
and maintenance of intentional communities are more likely to succeed than
bureaucratically organized schools (Schorr 1997). Within effective school
communities, students and staff share expectations for learning, and students are
encouraged to take a variety of courses and activities that enable them to pursue
their interests and aspirations.?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (2001) has also developed a list of characteristics of
successful education programs in secure facilities:| ?Administrators regard education as a vital part of the rehabilitation process.| Programs help students develop competencies in basic reading, writing and math
skills, along with thinking and decision-making skills and character development
traits, such as responsibility and honesty.| Student/teacher ratios reflect the needs of the students.| Academic achievement is reinforced through incremental incentives.| Teachers are competent, committed, and trained in current research and teaching
methods, rather than relying on old model drill and workbook exercises.| Instruction involves multiple strategies appropriate to each learner?s interests and
needs.| Youth are assessed for learning disabilities and provided with special education in
full compliance with federal law.| When appropriate, parents, community organizations and volunteers are involved
in the academic program.| Opportunities exist for on-the-job training, work experience and mentorships.| Partnerships are developed with potential employers.| Students are scheduled for jobs and further education prior to the reentry into the
In their report, Alternative Education Programs, Effective Practices Research Brief
(undated), the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction finds that successful
alternative schools share the following characteristics:| ?They are small.| Both program and organization are designed by those who operate them| Character, theme, or emphasis is developed from the strengths and interests of the
teachers who established them.| Teachers choose to be a part of the program, with subsequent teachers being
selected with the input of present staff.| Students and families select the program.| A teacher-director administers the programs. A principal is the educational
leader.| They are usually housed as mini-schools or buildings once dominated by larger
programs.| The superintendent sustains the autonomy and protects the integrity of the school.| All programs are relatively free from district interference, and the administration
also buffers them from demands of the central office.| The continuity in leadership has been considerable.| Considerable attention goes into cultivating a strong sense of connection among
students, and between students and teachers.| The curriculum must be compelling, challenging and inviting.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth| Staff roles are broadened to include new responsibilities. Teachers and school
administrators must continue to collaborate to improve the image of alternative
education.| City-As-School (CAS) is an alternative program that combines academic learning
with the world of work for high school students, including at-risk Students.?
In yet another study, Tobin and Sprague (2000) examined effective school-based
practices for students who have behavior disorders and/or antisocial behavior. They
limited their review to programs that (a) could be applicable to students at risk for
antisocial behavior and/or failure in traditional classes, (b) were sufficiently practical to
be implemented in local public schools, and (c) showed convincing evidence of positive
outcomes. Their list of key characteristics is as follows:| ?Low ratio of students to teachers
o More personal time for each student
o Better behavioral gains
o Higher quality of instruction| Highly structured classroom with behavioral classroom management
o Level systems provide predictable structure
o Self-management skills are taught
o High rates of positive reinforcement
o High academic gains
o Students are able to move to less restrictive settings| Positive rather than punitive emphasis in behavior management
o Rewards for acceptable behavior and compliance
o Directly teach clear classroom rules
o Begin with rich reinforcement and then ?fade? to normal levels when
possible (four positives to one negative)| Adult mentors at school
o Mentor must use positive reinforcement
o Mentor takes special interest in child
o Mentor tracks behavior, attendance, attitude, grades
o Mentor negotiates alternatives to suspension and expulsion| Individualized behavioral interventions based on functional behavioral assessment
o Identify causes of the behavior
o Identify what is ?keeping it going?
o Identify positive behaviors to replace problems
o Interview and involve the student
o Use multicomponent interventions| Social skills instruction
o Problem solving
o Conflict resolution
o Anger management
o Empathy for others| High-quality academic instruction
o Direct instruction plus learning strategies
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
o Control for difficulty of instruction
o Small, interactive groups
o Directed responses and questioning of students| Involving parents
o Frequent home-school communication
o Parent education programs, provided either at school or in the community?
It is intriguing to note how similar many of these lists are, even when very different types
of programs or settings are considered. It is also important that many of the features are
similar to those considered essential to effective regular K-12 programs and schools.
Most of the lists identify high academic standards and expectations as a key feature of
successful programs. Other important qualities are small schools and class sizes, and
high-quality student-centered programs that actively engage teachers, parents, and other
community members. Finally many of them point to the importance of administrative
and bureaucratic autonomy for the program or school, so that they can create ?intentional
communities? often with the requirement that teachers and students be in the program
voluntarily. Many of these key qualities will need to be considered further as interest in
alternative education programs increases over the coming years, and as evaluation
strategies are considered to empirically analyze their effectiveness.
For better or worse, the demand for more and better alternative education options is
clearly growing across the country. Advancing the field will require progress on multiple
fronts, including raising awareness about the need for and benefits of high quality
alternative education options, finding ways to fund an adequate number of alternative
education programs and schools, and demonstrating and improving on the effectiveness
of high quality programs. All of these will require a better understanding of the vast
array of alternative education programs that already exist, and a way of classifying these
programs so that we can understand which types might be developed and replicated, how
many of each high quality type is needed, and whether and how this new ?system? of
alternative education can best be administered in conjunction with or alongside
traditional public schools.
The continuing dialogue about alternative education will benefit from having a common
understanding of the various types of programs that exist. This review suggests a number
of dimensions that could be used as a starting point to develop a typology of programs
(see Exhibit 3) to describe the type of program, the operator, instructional content,
educational purpose or focus, and funding.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
General type of alternative education:| Separate school| Separate program| Perspective/strategy with a regular K-12 school
Target Population:| women/girls| pregnant/parenting teens| suspended/expelled students| recovered drop-outs| delinquent teens| low-achievers| all at risk youth
Focus/purpose (and mix):| Academic completion/credential| Career preparation/credential| Disciplinary| Transitional (e.g., out of treatment or detention, or back to K-12)
Op t| resource rooms
era ional setting-proximity to K-12:| pull-out programs
ternative school| schools-within-a-sc| separate self-contained al
Op t
ns or detention center
era ional setting-location of activity:| regular school during school hours| school building during non-school h| community or recreation center| former school building| juvenile justice correctio| store-front neighborhood organization| public housing project
ency and transitional)| homeless shelter (emerg| medical or mental health facility
secondary cam| community college or other post-
Edu t
e off track
ca ional focus
ridge back to schools for students who ar| short-term b
students pre| maturely transitioning to adulthood| accelerated program for students needing a few credits to move o| students who are very far behind educationally
Spo o
gency or institution
contractors (e.g., for Job Corps)
ns r or administrative entity:| non-profit and community-based organization (C| state or local education agen| charter school| adult education division or agen| juvenile justice| K-12 public or private school| health or mental health a| federally-funded program and
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Credentials offered:| Regular high school diploma| General Educational Development (GED) diploma| Occupational and skills certification| No credentialing
Funding sources (and mix):| Federal funds| State funds| Local funds| Private funds
It is also clear if high-quality alternative education is to gain widespread public support, it
needs to serve its students well while also meeting high accountability standards. There
are now growing calls for more resources for both alternative education programs and for
better data and analysis about the programs. There is also increasing interest in how to
assess what programs are doing and accountability measurement and about ?how to
introduce high academic standards in alternative education systems without sacrificing
the elements that make alternative programs successful, and without compromising the
integrity of the high standards? (NGA Center for Best Practices 2001).6 To bring high
standards to alternative education programs, the NGA Center for Best Practices
recommends the following:| ?Strengthen links between traditional and nontraditional education systems| Invest resources to support the transition to high academic standards and beyond| Improve ?early warning systems? to identify lower-performing students| Support longer-term alternative education programs| Develop data-driven accountability measures for alternative education programs| Develop enhanced GED programs| Collect data.?
Similarly, the National Center on Education and the Economy (1998) recommends a
standards-based alternative education system that includes the following elements:| ?a single high standard for all students whether in traditional schools or in
alternative education programs;| a funding system that ensures that the country spends at least the same amount on
students in alternative education programs as in traditional schools;| an accountability system for both alternative education programs and traditional
schools tied to helping students meet high standards; and| a counseling and referral system in every community that provides students
access to the programs best suited to their needs.?
6 Interestingly, Oregon recently passed a state law (Senate Bill 258) that requires districts to evaluate the
quality of its alternative schools. Others have noted that alternative education programs in urban areas are
especially likely to be left out of the high academic standards movement.
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Finally o continue to conduct research on the effectiveness of
alternative u ssues for which there may be strong opinions.
For example:| Do alternative education schools accelerate learning compared to what students
hool setting?| Do e ms that integrate career development with academic
instruction have better educational and economic outcomes than those focused
mai ?| Are alternative education programs that operate totally outside of and separate
from regular school districts and public schools more effective than alternative
, it will be important t
ed cation and to address some i
would achieve in a regular sc
alt rnative progra
nly on academics
education sponsored by school districts?
Promoting high quality options for vulnerable or disconnected youth who are not
succeeding in traditional schools is an important part of a nation?s commitment to
educating its young people. Requiring that these programs also meet high accountab
standards ensures that they receive the resources and attention they need to do their job
well. Developing a typology of programs that describes the full array of alternatives ma
be an important element in encouraging the development of the most effective program
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
he need for alternative education programs and alternative pathways to educational
suc s
across t uch programs?both within and
out e hat is
less cle
sho s.
To b tt
undta ers, practitioners, advocates, funders,
, youth
plexity of the problem and the many challenges inherent in helping
disconnected youth. One fundamental question that ran throughout the day was the
extent to which the nation should focus on (1) expanding and encouraging the
development of high-quality alternative education for increasingly large numbers of
disconnected youth versus (2) attempting to ?fix? the mainstream education system so
fewer youth disconnect in the first place (while still developing high quality alternatives
for those who do disconnect). This issue was never fully resolved, although there was
widespread agreement that we should not develop an alternative system that is ?second
rate.? Underpinning these discussions were important concerns about protecting the civil
rights and other interests of vulnerable children, many of who are from minority
racial/ethnic groups and/or have disabilities.
Another basic theme of the roundtable discussions concerned the effectiveness of
alternative education (both within and outside mainstream educational settings). While
everyone agreed on the need for high quality programs that provide real opportunities for
youth, others were concerned that in reality some programs continue and contribute to a
disconnection from the mainstream, thereby becoming yet another barrier to the
successful transition of vulnerable youth to adulthood. Some roundtable participants felt
that alternative education can help youth stay connected to education because the
approaches/settings are better suited to meeting their needs and increase their chances of
success. Others, however, argued that alternative education systems may actually prevent
youth from (re)connecting to mainstream systems, precluding them from following more
typical developmental pathways. Much of this discussion was a simple reflection of the
ces is quite clear. The many types and numbers of programs that continue to appear
he country and the increasing demand for s
sid mainstream educational settings?only confirms the extent of this need. W
ar, however, is how we should move forward in helping children who are
ecting from traditional educational pathways, and what programs and policies
uld be developed and promoted to successfully educate vulnerable youth of all type
e er understand the ?next steps? for the field of alternative education, the Urban
e convened a daylong roundtable May 13th, 2003 in Washington, DC. The
ble convened experts?including research ro
and policymakers?from the fields of education (both mainstream and alternative)
development, youth employment, and civil rights, to discuss current issues around
alternative education, children and youth in need of alternative education, and future
directions for research and program development (a list of roundtable participants can be
found in Appendix B).
he roundtable yielded many interesting ideas and perspectives, and the discussions often T
reflected both the com
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
reality of alterative education progra ntry: they range from successful
high at
are essentially ?dum
imply to remove them fr aching or learning
ccurs. These themes led directly to important discussions about the need to better
derstand the quality of alternative education programming and student outcomes (and
g out,
r hide disconnecting youth? What are the
ms across the cou
quality programs committed to meeting students? individual needs to programs th
ping re students are sent grounds? for ?problem? youth and whe
om traditional schools and where little te s
how these should be defined and measured), standards and accountability, and how we
the educational needs of vulnerable youth align with what existing educational
alternatives are able to provide them.
The roundtable discussion yielded many specific ideas about future research and
information needs, and the remainder of this document summarizes these. Research on
these topics is critical for informing the development of sound policies and programs for
vulnerable youth. While there is still a need for basic research, more sophisticated
studies are also needed to address more complex issues. These include system-wid
mappings within communities that show both needs and resources and how they relate t
one another, studies of the many pathways children follow through community systems
(and with what outcomes), and analyzing the interaction between mainstream and
alternative programs and how they can and do affect each other.
Basic research is still needed on the population of children needing alternative education,
the reasons they need alternatives, and the types of programs and schools that are
available to meet these needs. This research should address the following questions.
Need for Educational Alternatives or Alternative Pathways| How many children in the nation and in selected state and communities are
disconnecting from mainstream educational systems and why? How many
disconnected youth reconnect with mainstream systems and/or alternative education
settings and how? Do the ways states and local communities measure droppin
grade promotion, and graduation include o
sociodemographic, economic, and educational characteristics of (a) children at-risk o
disconnecting, (b) children who do disconnect, (c) children who re-connect, and (d)
children who do not reconnect? Studies addressing these questions should include all
children, including those involved in the juvenile justice system and those with
Current Educational Alternatives| How many alternative schools and programs are there in specific states/communities
and across the country as a whole? Who runs them (public schools, private schools,
nonprofit community-based organizations, etc.)? What types of programs are they?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
s issues,
l level. These included ideas such as documenting
nt to
anges over time in the
numbers and educational needs of vulnerable youth. As more high-quality communitye
of the
current state of alternative education and promising strategies for high quality programs
great deal of time and effort. Initial investments in local community studies should focus
f they haven?t already, the
nt system, and then modify
Mapping Local Educational Systems for Needs Analysis
w the current educational system is succeeding or
failing at educating its youth. W
Who do they intend to serve and who do they in fact serve? What educational need
can they fulfill, and how does the profile of programs match the profile of needs at
the local community level? What types of accountability and performance measu
and continuous improvement methods do they use (if any) and what do these show
Much of the discussion at the roundtable centered on implementation and system
specially at the community and schoo e
the pathways that youth follow in disconnecting and reconnecting; the linkages am
agencies, programs, and other community-level institutions; and administrative and
management functions that ensure effectiveness. Because the problem of youth
disconnecting from mainstream schools is largely a systemic problem?one that results
from a mismatch between a group of youth and the educational agencies that are mea
serve them?understanding how youth can successfully remain connected (or reconnect)
with educational, employment, and other youth development programs also requires a
broad community-wide perspective. It is also important to understand how the tradition
and alternative education systems may be influencing one another, and how comm
can ?manage? their alternative education systems to respond to ch
based studies become available, it will become easier to generate a national pictur
that fit the needs of specific communities.
Developing a creative, flexible, and effective alternative education system requires a
on communities that are truly committed to systems reform: i
community must conduct an objective assessment of its curre
or create effective interventions for youth who are either dropping out or being pushed
out of mainstream schools. An interesting issue is whether mainstream educatio
ncies or other community-based organizations are primarily responsible for reolling
disconnected youth. Mainstream schools are certainly responsible for educating
children, and a major advantage of them re-enrolling disconnected youth is that they
be less likely to disconnect with students in the first place, but in communities where
ools continue to push children out or simply let them go, alternatives outside
nstream systems may need to be developed. Below are some of the specific systeml
research questions raised during the roundtable.
Local level research can identify ho
hile some observations can be made at the national and
state level when it comes to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the public
cation system, assisting vulnerable youth within a given community involves
erstanding the specific opportunities and barriers they face in that community,
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
share various characteristics, and a typology of maps may emerge as more of them
e available.
t, and secured? How flexible and reliable are
bers vary over
time from one year to the next?| What other types of needs do vulnerable youth have that may need to be
ons of
uding the general social and economic well-being of the community, and its schools
neighborhoods. Community mappings that compare specific needs against system
urces can be an important tool in helping communities develop sound educational
icies. Any given community?s map is likely to be unique, but many communities
To that end, researchers and others can map a local community?s system from the
perspective of vulnerable youth by examining the following issues:| How well is the mainstream educational system functioning? What are the
graduation and dropout rates (assuming they are well defined)? What propor
of youth are leaving at grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, etc.?| What does the entire educational system look like? How many public (both
traditional and alternative) and private (both traditional and alternative) schools
are there, and how do they all relate to one another? How many alternative
options are there within traditional public schools? How do alternative
schools/programs differ from traditional ones?| Are alternative schools/programs getting equitable resources? What is the current
funding situation for schools in the community (both mainstream and alternative)?
What are the per-student costs and expenditures in various education settings?
How are resources identified, sough
these resources? Do educational supports follow youth through the system or
individual educational programs have fixed funding streams?| What proportion of youth is vulnerable and disconnecting under various
definitions of vulnerability/disconnection?| What are the specific educational needs of disconnected and vulnerable yout
(e.g., youths who need a few credits to graduate because their schooling was
interrupted by a pregnancy or the need to work to support other family members;
youth who are way below grade level for their age and need intensive training on
basic skills but with age-appropriate curricula and materials; youth who need an
apprenticeship program or other connection to the world of work or the arts to
motivate them to continue their schooling and graduate). How many youth are in
each of these various educational groupings? How do these num
addressed alongside their educational needs (e.g., childcare, housing, health,
counseling, etc.)? Given the variety of alternatives available in many
communities (transitional high schools, alternative programs and schools,
community-based organizations and nonprofits with different focuses [e.g.
employment, juvenile justice]) it will be important to know what combinati
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
tructured around the educational alternatives of vulnerable youth or
are they structured around other student characteristics that may not make sense| What mechanisms are in place to ensure that students are accessing appropriate
As t s
focus o
What aspects of local schools or educational settings support (and fail to support)|
o this
l setting/experience that can influence
this choice? Are some students appropriately disconnecting from poor-quality
approaches work for youth with particular types of life experiences to ensure their
educational success.| How do the numbers of vulnerable youth with different types of educational
needs correspond to the types of programs that are available? Are existing
alternatives s
from the standpoint of an educator?
educational services in the community? How do alternative education strate
fit into the current system? What types of specific issues for vulnerable youth do
the strategies address? Are there gaps?
par of the mapping process, youth themselves should contribute their perspective
focus groups or surveys. Their opinions and experiences with the local
onal system are a critical source of information. Data collection efforts could
Why do some vulnerable youth stay in school? How do they differ from those
who do not stay? Why do some disconnected youth reconnect with mainstream
or alternative education programs? How do they differ from those who do not
reconnect?| Why do youth drop out of school? If it is by choice, how did they come t
choice? Are there aspects of the educationa
schools? If leaving school was not a choice, such as expulsion, were there opti
for continuing education in the community?
What can be done to improve the educational experience of youth from a systems
What educational options do youth think they have available to them? What do
they perceive to be the advantages/disadvantages of each of these options? How
accurate are these perceptions?| What educational options would youth like to have available to them? Ho
should they be set up, who should they serve, and what should they do?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
addition to mapping the educational system (and needs) within a local community, it is
critical ure
that the
How do alternative education programs compare to mainstream programs? Can the
stan they promoted? (A process analysis of
the variety of educational settings within a particular community would allow
s the effect of alternative educational settings (especially alternative schools
for youth with disciplinary problems, second chance schools, etc.) on the local
placed in them than was intended? Are low performing or ?problem youth? being
appropriately pushed out of mainstream settings into alternative ones? If so, to
rights of vulnerable youth protected throughout the system?|
regular school?| What are the political realities for creati
alternative education options in the community? Are certain groups of youth (e.g.,
vulnerable youth (e.g., by focusing on thei
?problem ection in the first place)? Can a single wellouth
w benef
tive Education Settings?Opportunities or Barriers
that alternative and mainstream options be examined side by side, both to ens
two are more or less equal (or at least moving towards equity) and to foster
ous improvement in both systems. Among the system issues that should be
ed are:|
two systems be considered equal (with respect to quality, accountability, resources)?
do students flow from one system into the other, and what factors dictate these
s? How are consumer choice, continuous improvement, and evidence-based
dards built into both systems? How are
researchers to compare the quality and content of instruction, the resources availabl
to each, how youth move in and out of the settings, and other relevant issues.| What i
educational system? When these programs/schools are developed, do more youth get
what extent, and what are the consequences of this? What happens to youth
ering/exiting juvenile justice facilities, youth with disabilities? Are students of
or being disproportionately pushed out of certain schools/settings? Are the civil
What happens to youth who are expelled? How many expelled youth do not have
rnative schools as options to continue their education? Is the goal to reconnect
th to mainstream settings once disconnected in this way? If so, are alternative
roaches effective at reconnecting youth to mainstream settings and agencies? To
at extent are youth who are expelled from mainstream settings able to re-enroll in
ng and sustaining a wide base of support for
drop-outs) favored over others (e.g., expelled students)? Can the needs of children b
ined and discussed in a way that ensures widespread support and attention to
r educational needs rather than the
s? that lead to their disconn
developed alternative education system serve both vulnerable and disconnected y
as ell as high-achieving highly successful students (many of whom can and do
it from alternative options as well)?
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
ents who are reading very far below grade level for their age. Yet other
trategies may be needed for students who rotating in and out of the juvenile justice
uch evaluation endeavors might include:
What are the long-term outcomes into early adulthood associated with
ts, etc.? What are the short and long-term effects for these
in and foremost educational programs (or at
ast should be), evaluations of them should include academic outcomes for participants.
Unfortunately, many states and communities have designed their graduation rates so that
certain students who leave (or are pushed out) are simply not reflected in the measure (in
There is a clear and growing need for reliable evaluation research in the area of
alternative education. We need to better understand what strategies work for whom.
Successful strategies for teen parents who are close to graduation but need alternativ
programs offering accelerated classes or nontraditional hours may be very different f
the needs of stud
e advocates and researchers are calling for more evaluations of individual programs,
ile others argue that community-wide systems should be evaluated because multiple
els of a system, not just individual programs, influence youth and their developmental
comes. Both individual program evaluation and evaluations of systems would
tribute greatly to the body of knowledge about what works for vulnerable youth.
S| Evaluating specific programs and/or community-wide systems of practice to
identify those that work most effectively for particular types of youth. Such
efforts require rigorous evaluation designs with experimental or quasiexperimental
approaches so that researchers can more confidently identify the
effects of a given program or program components on youth outcomes. S
level variables must also be taken into account.| Employing longitudinal designs will allow evaluators to answer such questions as:
particular educational settings or programs?
o What are the relative gains associated with assisting low-achieving youth
to complete another grade? To graduate?
o How do alternative education settings affect particularly vulnerable youth
such as those involved in (or exiting) the juvenile justice system, teen
paren| Including cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness components in these studies will
also assist educators in understanding the relative cost of various programs, and
help convince funders (and the community at large) to support proven costeffective
ce alternative education programs are first Sl
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
ar in the denominator of the
graduation rate, thereby inflating the ratio and making the given school or school system
tional alternatives can include:
terested in understanding other important
kil th :|
In addition
education prog re
to succeed in e vement
efforts can help programs provide quality assurances to the community and also help
em adapt the program to the changing needs of its students. The process should
include| e| Designing tools for individual programs or settings to monitor progress toward
omes of interest.
nering support for implementing the monitoring process.
addition to not appearing in the numerator, they do not appe
appear even more successful than it is. Great care must be taken to develop cons
and reliable measures that fully account for all students irrespective of whether or not
they are mainstream educational institutions. The measures should not be limited to th
share graduating, since many students in need of educational alternatives are far from
graduating and measures of their educational progress short of graduation are also
critical. Thus, with these cautions in mind, appropriate educational outcome measure
for educa| Graduation rates (or the share of all students receiving a diplomas or some type of
credential),| Improvements over time in math and reading ability, and| Grade promotion.
Many advocates and researchers are also in
potential outcomes. These include a wide variety of personal, social, and vocational
s ls at youth may gain by participating in an alternative education school/program
School connectedness or engagement
Participation in civic events, volunteering, community leadership opportunities
Identity development
Social and life skill development
Employment and career skills| Knowledge about career development| Experience of emotional and instrumental support from adults
ce Monitoring
to examining outcomes for youth themselves, providers of alternative
rams will need to monitor their own performance and progress if they a
ducating vulnerable youth. Self-monitoring and continuous impro
Defining local standards of performance based on outcomes of interest for th
student population.
outc| Gar| Reviewing the results of the process and changing programs and strategies
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
, staff, curriculum and instruction,
ocational/technical/career, assessment, personal/social/life skills, community and social
serv e
alternative education providers. Other promising and effective practices are analyzed and
pro d through their website
ww n
cou t s and educators could access this
nati a
Fin y ed to advance the
field of alternative educati
include basic research that can inform policymakers, educators, and advocates about how
uth. Such research should address the following questions:
ch as:|
tly and indirectly via their impact on mainstream schools?
zero-tolerance disciplinary policies on vulnerable youth?
te levels have on local alternative education options?
Best Practices?Criteria for Best Practices
With the current literature available and with new evaluation endeavors underway,
researchers, along with advocates and policymakers, can begin to develop criteria for
defining best practices in the field of alternative education and learning. The Iowa
Association of Alternative Education, for example, has developed a comprehensive list
quality indicators based on the Framework for Learning Alternatives Environments
Iowa.7 It covers many areas and includes multiple indicators in the areas of philosophy,
administration, student, parents/guardians
ic s, and facilities. Such lists need to be refined and tested, and shared among
file by the National Youth Employment Coalition and shared
Systematically studying and replicating studies on effective approaches for developin
educational alternatives within individual programs, schools, and communities would
allow people to review programs and settings in the field and develop model
interventions for particular types of vulnerable youth. Best practices and model program
ld hen be catalogued so local policymaker
tion easily, and consideration should be given to funding and maintaining a
on l clearinghouse of research on educational alternatives.
all , a variety of other background information and studies are need
on and better serve vulnerable and disconnected youth. These
best to serve vulnerable yo| What is the cost of dropping out in the new economy to youth and society?| What is the cost of having under-qualified teachers in the classroom to youth and
Other questions cover the effects of outside forces on alternative school settings, su
How are various provisions within the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) affecting alternative
education, both direc
What are the intended and unintended consequences of new developments such
high-stakes testing and
Are more of them being transferred out of mainstream setting| And finally, what impact do policies and resource allocation decisions at the
federal and sta
7 Accessible on-line at:
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
oing need for multiple high quality educational options for all students.
needed on assessment and evaluation of the
, and
its of
ure the resources needed
to develop a high quality system that meets the needs of all children.
A great deal of additional research on alternative education is needed. This research
includes very basic descriptive analyses of students in need of educational alternatives,
the programs and schools providing these alternatives, as well as more basic work on
definitions, typologies, and inventories of approaches/programs. There is clearly a
growing recognition for the need for high quality educational alternatives. M
and alternative educational programs have always and will continue to influence each
other in fundamental ways. The growth in the types of programming available within
mainstream K-12 school systems, and the blurring of the boundaries between the many
options within mainstream school systems and the ?alternatives? outside this system,
testify to the ong
A great deal of additional work is also
quality of educational alternatives, the outcomes and standards used to measure their
quality and effectiveness, and how the educational needs of all youth are ?managed? at
the systems level (i.e., who is served in which programs and with what results
equally important, who is not served and how do they disconnect or fail to reconnect with
the agencies responsible for educating them). More work on the costs and benef
failing to develop high quality educational alternatives (for youth, employers, and so
at large) will also help advocates, parents, and policymakers sec
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
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Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Many asp bility to learn and succeed in school. Wells
(1990) has identified a variety of circum
ects of children's lives affect their a
stances that can place students at risk. They include
ividual-, family-, school-, and community-related factors: 8
8 Source: Wells, S.E. (1990). At-Risk Youth: Identification, Programs, and Recommendations. Teacher Idea
Press: Englewood, Colorado.
Sch| Con
cult| Neg
Lack of relevant curriculum
In| D
Retentions/suspensions| Lac
Low ability level
ave dropped out| Illness/disability
Com| L
or response
sch| Hig criminal activities| Low socioeconomic status| Dysfunctional homelife| Non-English-speaking home
ool Related
flict between home/school
Student Related| Poor school attitude| Ineffective discipline system| Lack of adequate counseling
ative school climate| Attendance/truancy| Behavior/discipline problems| Pregnancy| Drug abuse| Passive instructional strategies| appropriate use of technology
isregard of student learning styles| Poor peer relationships| Nonparticipation| Friends h| Low expectations
k of language instruction| Low self-esteem/self-efficacy
munity Related
ack of community support services
Family Related| Lack of community support for
h incidences of| No parental involvement| Low parental expectations| Lack of school/community linkages| Ineffective parenting/| High mobility
Education Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth
Laudan Aron, Urban Institute, Labor and Social Policy Center
Rebecca Clark, Office of Planning and Development, Chicago Board of Education
Jane Hannaway, Urban Institute, Education Policy Center
Center for Law and Social Policy
in Kellogg Founda n
Harry Holzer, Georgetown Public Policy Institute and Urban Institute, Labor and Social
, The Civil Rights o
ercultural Development Research Association
sk Force for Disadv t
y l Services, Iowa p
nstitute, Labor a
c d Destructive Behavior, University of Oregon
outh Investment
e hicago and Office
e, Population Studies Center
Mott Foundation
ren, Youth n
e ndation
Mic ld, The William & Flora Hewlett Found o
ent and Education, Commonwealth
Dennis L. White, Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence,
The George Washington University
Nicole Yohalem, Forum for Youth Investment
Carolyn Young, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health
Janine Zweig, Urban Institute, Labor and Social Policy Center
Candace Bell, William Penn Foundation
Jeffrey A. Butts, Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center
Pancho Chang, Walter S. Johnson Foundation
Linda Harris,
W nie Hernandez-Gallegos, W.K. tio
Policy Center
Daniel Losen, Harvard University Pr ject
Mar? Robledo Montecel, Int
Karen Morison, White House Ta an aged Youth
Ra Morley, Bureau of Instructiona De artment of Education
ter Demetra Smith Nightingale, Urban I nd Social Policy Cen
Vi ki Nishioka, Institute on Violence an
the Future Hi ary Pennington, Jobs for
Karen Pittman, Forum for Y
M lissa Roderick, University of C
Chicago Board of Educatio
of Planning and Development,
Matthew Stagner, Urban Institut
Chris Sturgis, C.S.
Francisco A. Villarruel, Institute for Child
, a d Families, Michigan State
Br tt Visger, KnowledgeWorks Fou
hael Wa ati n
Lowell Weiss, Bill and Melinda Gates Fou
Ephraim Weisstein, Center for Youth Developm