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

Cheryl Almeida, Cecilia Le, Adria Steinberg, with Roy Cervantes

Of the 1.2 million students who drop out each year, and the others who continue to attend school but make little progress toward graduation, many will require creative alternatives in significantly different settings to help them get back on track toward a diploma and a postsecondary credential. There is reason for optimism. Promising evidence is emerging that efforts to redesign alternative education contribute to rising graduation rates. In the past five years, several large cities—most notably New York City and Philadelphia—have made considerable progress toward developing effective pathways for former dropouts to earn high school diplomas and postsecondary credentials.

Expanding proven models to additional large cities and smaller urban and rural areas will require a sea change in state policy and practice. States must rewrite policy to help “normalize” alternative education, establishing it as a viable, proficiency-based pathway for the millions of young people who are failing to thrive in more traditional settings. Reinventing Alternative Education helps states take the crucial first step: evaluating how well their existing alternative education policies enable needed change.

This report identifies seven model policy elements that states should incorporate in order to develop and improve alternative pathways for struggling students and former dropouts. Jobs for the Future performed this comprehensive 50-state policy scan to assess the extent to which state policy aligns with these model elements.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have put in place at least one of the model policy elements through legislation or regulations—but most of these states have only one or two elements in place. And not a single state has developed a comprehensive approach that incorporates all seven elements outlined in this report.

Dropout policies are not included in this research. JFF performed a separate, 50-state analysis examining how well states enable and encourage the dropout prevention and the recovery of those who have already dropped out of high school. The findings of this analysis are described in the brief Six Pillars of Effective Dropout Prevention and Recovery: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It.