urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

An Overview of Alternative Education

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: March 06, 2006
Released online: March 06, 2006

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).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


There is a great need for a variety of alternative pathways to educational success, ranging from essential early intervention and prevention strategies in the early years, to a multiplicity of high-quality alternative options within mainstream K-12 systems at the middle and high school levels, and finally to opportunities outside of the mainstream for those unable to learn and thrive in the general education system. This paper reviews community- or district-based programs that have as their primary focus the re-engagement of out-of-school youth in learning in order to better prepare them to successfully enter high growth occupations and careers.
Assistant Secretary Emily Stover DeRocco
In a speech to the National Association of Workforce Boards
March 4, 2005
Washington, D.C.

INTRODUCTION

Since the publication of A Nation At Risk in 1983 that sounded alarms about the quality of the nation's schools, the United States has been on a path toward restructuring its education system. In 1990, the bipartisan Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce led by two former Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Labor noted in its report, America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages!, that the United States, unlike all the other countries that it competes with economically, does not have a system of education standards identifying what all students need to know and do to succeed in the 21st century economy. Since then, states and school districts have been focusing their efforts on adopting high academic standards, improving accountability, and achieving excellence. The No Child Left Behind Act, proposed by President Bush and passed by the Congress in 2001, has continued to push to strengthen our nation's schools through a system of state standards, tests and a national accountability system, and a targeted effort to help low-performing schools and students.

Current estimates put the number of youth who are not in school, do not have a diploma, and not working at 3.8 million (Aron et al. 2003, p. 5); however, "little attention is being paid to the need for scaled efforts to reconnect these dropouts to education options that prepare them for success in the economy of the future" (Harris 2005, p. 2). These youth need access to high quality alternative education and training opportunities to equip them to compete in today's labor market.

High school completion rates peaked in 1969 at 77.1 percent and have gradually declined to 69.9 percent (Barton 2005, p. 2).1 The earning power of individuals with less than a high school education (and even of high school graduates) has fallen continuously over the last several decades. In 1971, male dropouts working full-time earned $35,087 (in 2002 dollars). By 2002, this figure had fallen 35 percent, to $23,903. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its publication, Occupational Outlook, Winter 2004-2005, "when an occupation has workers with different levels of education, the worker with more education is better able to compete for the job (Moncarz, R. and Crosby, O. 2004-2005, p. 6)." The Outlook goes on to describe how individuals with a high school degree and some college or vocational training are more likely to be hired, to earn more when they start a job and over a lifetime, and to become supervisors. Clearly, a high school diploma and some form of post-secondary education and training are now critical to succeeding in the new global economy of the 21st century.

Alternative pathways to educational success are needed at every step of the way, ranging from essential early intervention and prevention strategies in the early years, to a multiplicity of high-quality alternative options within mainstream K-12 systems at the middle and high school levels, and finally to opportunities outside of the mainstream for those who have been unable to learn and thrive in the general education system. The main focus of this review for the U.S. Department of Labor is community- or district-based programs that have as their primary focus the re-engagement of out-of-school youth in learning in order to better prepare these youth to successfully enter high growth occupations and careers.

Below we review some preliminary efforts to develop a typology and define 'alternative education,' as well as several promising programs, models, and initiatives that provide out-of-school youth with real second chance opportunities. We then turn to the issue of how many out-of-school youth are involved in alternative education, how many need these options, and other evidence concerning youth who need access to alternative education programs. The final section discusses the current policy environment for alternative education, some of the funding streams available to support programs for out-of-school youth, and how underused funding streams might be tapped for this effort.

Before turning to these topics, it is important to keep in mind that youth do not disconnect from traditional developmental pathways (or high schools for that matter) because of the failure of any one system.2 Likewise, reconnecting youth requires collaboration and coordination among multiple youth-serving systems: these certainly include school and youth employment and training programs, but also child protective service systems, the juvenile justice system, and a variety of health and human services agencies, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment agencies, crisis intervention centers, runaway and homeless youth shelters, and others.

Notes from this section of the report

1. Congress acknowledged the severity of the dropout problem by including graduation rate accountability provisions in the NCLB legislation enacted in 2002. Getting consensus on accurate graduation and dropout rates has typically been difficult as state and local education systems use different methods; in fact, the National Center for Educational Statistics has recently developed a standard formula for calculating these rates that will be used to determine if states are meeting their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals on dropout and graduation rates.

2. By traditional developmental pathways we mean that youth are generally connected to the education, employment, or organizations that prepare them for a successful transition to adulthood.

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



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