We Can’t Leave Alternative Schools Behind
Earlier this month, the State Board of Education voted on how to calculate a one-year graduation rate for students in alternative schools.
This is different from other public schools (which use four-year cohort graduation rates) because most students who enroll in alternative schools are not on track to graduate in four years. While discussing the one-year graduation rate is a step in the right direction, it’s far from a solution to the problems plaguing alternative schools in California.
Kids in alternative schools are often some of the most at-risk youth in the state. Alternative schools provide different educational settings to students in vulnerable circumstances – like those who have dropped out, struggled with behavior issues, are pregnant or parenting, or need a flexible schedule. Politicians have long ignored them, but Marshall Tuck rejects that notion. He’ll have the courage to demand that they’re included in the system. That’s important, because the state of California’s alternative education system is dire:
- Low graduation rates: A 2016 report estimated that 300,000 high school juniors and seniors attended alternative schools. While about 12% of California’s total high school seniors attended alternative schools for 12th grade, only 37% of those graduated.
- High chronic absenteeism rates: At continuation high schools (a type of alternative school), nearly 60% of students were chronically absent during the 2016-17 school year. That’s 5 ½ times the state average. (Chronic absence means the student missed at least 10% or more of the school days during the school year.)
Because Sacramento politicians haven’t kept track of students in alternative schools, they have rendered the kids invisible. A 2015 story from the Hechinger Report put it this way: “Although the schools serve the most vulnerable students, the state has no mechanism for determining which schools are doing a good job and which need to get better.” That’s right. A 2008 report found that only 229 of 519 continuation schools had Academic Performance Index (API) scores for three consecutive years. API was how the state was supposed to hold schools accountable for student performance – but this obviously wasn’t happening for students in alternative schools.
That hasn’t seemed to change. While the one-year graduation rate is an important issue to be considered by the Board of Education, so was California’s plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But the Board approved that plan in April, even though it was nearly silent on alternative education. That’s unacceptable. Students in alternative settings – some of the state’s most vulnerable students – should be receiving more attention under the state’s accountability system, not less.
It’s clear that real change is needed, especially for kids in alternative schools. While politicians and bureaucrats in Sacramento want to sweep them under the rug – or leave them out of our state’s ESSA plan – Marshall Tuck will fight for them. No kid should be invisible. That’s why we’re on #TeamTuck.