|Decision Makers:||Educators State Government Nonprofit Leaders|
|Population Reach:||1-9% of WI's population|
|Impact on Disparities:|
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Alternative high schools provide educational opportunities for students whose needs are not met by a traditional school model, often, students who have quit, been expelled, or are at increased risk of dropping out. Alternative schools generally offer services such as childcare or support groups, have a flexible structure, supportive environments, and small classes, and emphasize interactions between teachers and students. Such schools are frequently established in low income communities and housed outside of traditional schools. Alternative high schools are distinct from community-based alternative education programs for at-risk students that supplement traditional high school learning (CG-TFR Education).
There is strong evidence that alternative high schools for at-risk students improve high school graduation rates (CG-TFR Education, Campbell-Wilson 2011). On average, alternative schools increase graduation rates among students at risk of dropping out by 15.5% (CG-TFR Education).
Interviews with at-risk students suggest that students are more likely to stay in alternative high schools that provide safe spaces physically, emotionally, and psychologically; foster a sense of community; affirm students’ racial/ethnic identities; and use flexible disciplinary systems based on discussion and conflict resolution (O'Gorman 2016).
Implementation challenges such as staffing or funding difficulties, problems with the physical space, and low program attendance or completion rates can reduce the effectiveness of alternative high schools (Campbell-Wilson 2011).
The cost of alternative schools varies significantly, ranging from $1,700 to $12,900 per student. The estimated benefit to cost ratio for alternative schools ranges from 0.6 to 1 to 1.6 to 1 (CG-TFR Education).
Alternative education programs have been formally defined in 43 states; definitions vary, but usually include guidelines about services, for example, regular academic instruction (21 states), counseling (14 states), social and life skills training (13 states), vocational and workplace preparation (12 states), or behavioral services (e.g., anger management or conflict resolution) (11 states) (IES-Porowski 2014).
In the 2007-2008 school year, there were about 10,300 alternative schools or alternative education programs for at-risk students administered by school districts across the country; approximately 63% of these schools or programs were offered in facilities outside of traditional public schools (NCES-Rouse Carver 2010). University High School in Boston, MA and Middle College High School in Seattle, WA are examples of alternative high schools that offer enhanced social services, flexible enrollment policies, small classes, counseling and mentoring support, and vocational training and work experiences (ABCD-UHS, SPS-MCHS).
Several national non-profit organizations have developed alternative education programs into pathways to earn high school diplomas or GEDs. For example, The Corps Network supports students earning high school diplomas or GEDs with more personal attention in the classroom; comprehensive academic, career, and personal counseling; and job skills training (TCN-Impacts). YouthBuild, which began as a community-based program that teaches construction skills while building affordable housing, now also supports over 50 YouthBuild alternative high schools (Bloom 2010, YouthBuild-Education).
As of 2016, there are 89 alternative public high schools in Wisconsin. These schools serve over 5,000 students. Of those 5,000 students, 65% identify themselves as a racial/ethnic minority, which is a greater proportion of students representing racial/ethnic minority groups than the Wisconsin state average of 28% (PSR-Wisconsin).
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