Reinventing Alternative Education: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It

Whitney Gilbert

Cheryl Almeida, Cecilia Le, Adria Steinberg, Roy Cervantes
Jobs for the Future
September 2010 

This report from Jobs for the Future analyzed all 50 states’ and the District of Columbia’s policies that guide their overall approach to and operation of alternative education programs. The authors, through a review of state policies and legislation, examined the extent to which each state’s alternative education policies incorporated seven elements that comprise what JFS deems a model alternative education program. States should:

  1. Broaden eligibility to reach beyond the traditional “at risk’ student.
  2. Clarify state and district rules and responsibilities to establish quality standards for the operation and management of such programs.
  3. Establish a separate accountability system that holds alternative programs to common state standards and takes into account circumstances unique to alternative education.
  4. Increase support for innovation by allowing alternative educations models to replicate throughout the state.
  5. Ensure high-quality among staff by creating incentives for such professionals to work in alternative programs and requiring ongoing professional development.
  6. Establish outside community partnerships to provide a range of academic and support services to alternative students.
  7. Create a funding formula that provides alternative education programs with a greater amount of funding than received by traditional programs through state and district per-pupil payout.

What the report found was not surprising: overall states have a lot of work left to do when it comes to educating students through alternative programs.  The District of Columbia and 40 states have implemented at least one of the policy elements but no state has adopted all seven.  Ohio, along with thirty other states and DC, has put into place policies that broaden student eligibility for alternative education beyond troubled youth. No state has adopted sufficient policies to ensure high-quality staff within alternative education programs

On the seven indicators Ohio finds itself in the middle of the pack: it only met one policy element fully and another four partially (clarify responsibilities, strengthen accountability, ensure high quality staff, and enrich funding).

Overall, the report shows that while states are starting to embrace alternative education there are still fundamental policy changes that must occur in order to capitalize on all that alternative education can offer.  To read the complete report click here.