urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Educational Alternatives for Vulnerable Youth

Student Needs, Program Types, and Research Directions

Read complete document: PDF


PrintPrint this page
Share:
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Digg Share on Reddit
| Email this pageE-mail
Document date: November 30, 2003
Released online: November 30, 2003

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


PREFACE

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, 1999).

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. 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.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Acknowledgments

This paper was prepared with funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the C. S. Mott Foundation, the Urban Institute, its trustees, or other funders. The authors would like to thank Chris Sturgis, Demetra Nightingale, Matt Stagner, and Jane Hannaway for their thoughtful consideration of the paper contents and participation on the project.



Topics/Tags: | Education


Usage and reprints: Most publications may be downloaded free of charge from the web site and may be used and copies made for research, academic, policy or other non-commercial purposes. Proper attribution is required. Posting UI research papers on other websites is permitted subject to prior approval from the Urban Institute—contact publicaffairs@urban.org.

If you are unable to access or print the PDF document please contact us or call the Publications Office at (202) 261-5687.

Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.

Email this Page