July 16, 2006

Astonishing Variety of Options in California

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In addition to 600 charter schools, California has some 4,000 educational option schools serving 500,000 students. Though some of the programs serve students K-12, it is estimated that one of every six high school students are involved with educational options.

While a variety of programs serve at-risk students, other programs include independent study, magnet schools, middle colleges and alternative schools of choice. For some of these schools, the Superintendent of Public Education can waive any provision of the California education code except those for health and safety.

Much of this astonishing array of programs arose from a comprehensive report by the California Commission for Reform of Intermediate and Secondary Education (RISE Commission, 1975).

Among the goals of alternative schools and programs of choice, as stated in Education Code Section 58500, are the following:

-Maximize the opportunity for students to develop the positive values of self-reliance, initiative, kindness, spontaneity, resourcefulness, courage, creativity, responsibility, and joy.

-Recognize that the best learning takes place when the student learns because of his or her desire to learn.

-Maintain a learning situation in which maximum use is made of student self-motivation and in which students are encouraged to use their own time to follow their own interests. These interests may be conceived totally and independently by the student, or as a result of a presentation by the student's teacher(s) of choice.

July 12, 2006

Alternative Education: VERY USEFUL REPORT

Elaine S. Packard chaired the Alternative Education Committee established by the Seattle School Board with the charge to write an operational definition of alternative education and to make policy recommendations. A Seattle Schools.gif
representative committee of 15 members met 13 times with rules to agree unanimously on every sentence in preparing their July, 2005 report. A larger group was kept informed and could supply input. An excellent bibliography is provided.

The 25 page report contains, among other items, The 12 Key Elements of the Best Practices of Alternative Education (many with specific indicators) as follows:
1. Informed Choice
2. Open to All
3. Continuousness
4. Shared Decision Making
5. Alternative Assessment
6. Deeply Caring and Respectful School Culture That Creates Community
7. Individualizing Curriculum and Differentiating Instruction
8. There Are Many Ways to Learn
9. Caring and Demanding Teachers
10. Alternative Scheduling and Attendance Policies
11. Small
12. Clear Mission and Objectives

July 07, 2006

Extraordinary Data Base: Kids Count

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released its 2006 Kids Count: State Level Data Online. This rich database in easy to read charts provides a state by state and national comparison of information over the past five or more years. For example, one can view in each state the percent of teens not attending school and not working year by year from 1999 to 2003 for a trend line compared to national data.

The wealth of data covers ten areas including education, infancy, health, employment, teen risk behaviors, etc. These are broken into 75 subtopics with charts. Anyone preparing proposals or seeking a rationale or justification for program design will find valuable, authoritative data. All are free to use the information with attribution.

The report can be viewed online or a free copy can be ordered.

June 25, 2006

Critical Facts and Data about US Education

A nonprofit report and two federal reports from the US Department of Education provides authoritative information:

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The Institute Education Sciences released the new 2005 Digest of Education Statistics by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides an enormous database of facts covering topics in pre-kindergarten education through graduate school. Topics include: numbers of institutions, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, along with information about educational attainment, finances, federal funds for education, employment and income of graduates, libraries, and international comparisons.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released The Condition of Education 2006. This annual report summarizes developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The 2006 report presents 50 indicators on the status and condition of education and an analysis of international assessments.\

Another very useful report is a Public Education Primer (Basic (and Sometimes Surprising) Facts about the U.S. Education System) by the Center on Education Policy.

Together, these reports fuel writers, speakers and researchers needs for accurate and complete information about American education.

Choices for "At-Risk" Students

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Experienced educators know that students do not want to drop out of school. It’s just that the usual one-size-fits-all program doesn’t work for all. Youth need options. A new report by Jobs For the Future,, Making Good on a Promise: What Policymakers Can Do to Support the Educational Persistence of Dropouts, challenges conventional thinking, finding that:
-Dropouts come from all income brackets but disproportionately from poverty.
-Middle and upper income Black and Hispanic students have similar dropout rates as White students.
-Most dropouts are motivated and return to an alternative program to graduate.
-Half of the dropouts who graduate or attain a GED enroll in further education.
-Only 10% of these graduate.

Bottom line: Provide choices, individualize and personalize education. Students want to learn and graduate.

A very useful instrument for assessing employability is the SCANS Skills Assessment by Jobs For Youth.

June 24, 2006

Choices in New Orleans

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Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans infrastructure and the school district. During the first year after the hurricane 11,700 students out of 56,000 returned to school. 25 of 128 schools reopened: 9 are charter schools, 4 are district schools, and 12 (plus 2 of the charter schools) operate under state authority. It is strange to go to the New Orleans school district web site and find no schools listed.

The state is considering proposals from applicants to run semi-independent schools. Meanwhile, the Mayoral Education Committee is pondering next steps. The Orleans Parish School Board is being advised by the Council of the Great City Schools and other individuals and groups. The state has drafted, The Recovery School District Plan to assess the situation and to work with the Federal-Aid Emergency Management Agency. Expected are some 25-30 charter schools in operation by fall, 2006.

The situation creates an unprecedented opportunity to reinvent public education. Unfortunately, the situation is so fraught with controversy and overlapping realms of authority that it is unlikely a transformed system of education will emerge. See "Dual Orleans Systems Grow in Storm's Wake in Education Week for a good overview.

May 30, 2006

Major Conference on Alternatives

The International Association for Learning Alternatives will hold its annual conference at Ocean Shores, Shilo Inn.jpg Washington June 29, July 1, 2006. This meaty and significant conference features the theme, Education for Everyone, and emphasizes that many types of alternatives are necessary to meet different learning needs and student-centered philosophies of education: magnet school, charter schools, homeschooling, democratic schools, virtual schools, Montessori, and more. Make this a summer vacation trip with your family to this lovely setting.

Conferees will enjoy the Shilo Inn conference site on the Pacific Ocean with a variety of family activities. Ocean Shores is a 6,000 acre peninsula at the mouth of Grays Harbor, the only deep water port on the Pacific coast north of San Francisco. Ocean Shores was originally developed in 1960, and is one of Washington’s most popular resort destinations. In Ocean Shores, you’ll find 6 miles of sandy beaches which extend north of town 15 miles to Moclips. The city also features 23 miles of interconnecting lakes and canals, and 12 miles of scenic bayside. Ocean Shores is about a two hour drive from Seattle.

Conference information and registration information is posted on the IALA website.

Canada's Education Secret

Imagine a public school system where families are encouraged to go shopping for the school of their choice. Imagine that the choice includes a sports school, an art school, a military academy, a religious school, and Mandarin immersion. Imagine a world where all the school results are public, where schools compete for kids, and the bad schools are shutdown. Imagine a world where the students regularly outperform the rest of Canada.

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So begins an article by Margret Wente about the public schools of Edmonton, Canada. This 80,000 student district has long been known for its decentralization of decisions to local school. While many school districts have claimed site-based or school-based management, few did more than adopt the words. Edmonton piloted site-based decision making in the 1970s and went systemwide by the mid-1980s under the leadership of a forward-looking superintendent, Mike Strembitsky. Remarkably, the district continued and extended the program to include parental choice of schools after his retirement in the mid-1990s.

May 09, 2006

Alternative Training Programs

We've compiled a list of higher education institutions Handshake.jpgwith programs for training teachers and administrators for educational alternatives. Most are graduate program leading to post-baccalaureate degrees. Most of these have arisen the last decade. For some, the program consists of a single course or two. Others are full-blown programs such as the Masters degree program in Alternative Educaiton at Lock Haven University. We're happy to add to the list as people discover new programs.

A further reference is available by searching on the term "Training" under Categories within this site. See also the entry below: New Journals on Alternatives and Choices.

April 30, 2006

New Journals on Alternatives and Choices

Two new journals provide articles on alternatives and choice:J ed alternatives.gif


The Journal of Educational Alternatives edited by Nathaniel Hosley at Lock Haven University "attempts to bring together, in thought and action, administrators, teachers, social workers, psychologists, parents, researchers and practitioners for the universal reform of education."

J sch choice.jpgThe Journal of School Choice edited by Stephen Rollin at Florida State University (retired) and Judith Stein at Nova Southeastern University "is entirely dedicated to policy, research, and the history of school choice and related issues."

Both are peer-refereed journals focusing on K-12 education unlike, for example, On the Horizon, which addresses higher education reform.

Both are welcome additions to the literature of learning alternatives and signify the greater interest and growth of educational alternatives.

April 22, 2006

Schools, 50 Years From Now?

Kuokkala school.jpgKenneth R. Stevenson in a thoughtful essay, "Educational Facilities within the Context of a Changing 21st Century America" describes eight trends that will shape educational programs and facilities in the coming half-century. He concludes: "Such centers would provide traditional educational experiences, but also would serve as neighborhood hubs for preventive health care, recreational/social activities, meals for the elderly and needy, development of avocational interests, and retooling for new job opportunities. From an educational facilities perspective, if schools can be made to be true neighborhood community centers, the likelihood the general public will support taxing itself for new schools and/or renovation of existing ones will be enhanced greatly. And the wonderful thing is, the actual cost of such centers will vary little from the expense of building the structure for traditional educational purposes. Through careful design such spaces as music and art rooms, the health/nurse’s room, the cafeteria and library, the computer and science labs, general classrooms, and the outdoor play and recreational fields can be shared. The key is breaking down the old bureaucratic/societal perspective that schools are only for children. Policymakers and community leaders can play a critical role in changing this mentality." He provides a valuable reference list.

2006 Homeschooling Report

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The latest survey, Homeschooling in the U.S., 2003, published in February, 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics shows race, income and parental educational attainment of homeschooling families. It compares homeschoolers with students in public and private schools and changes between the former study in 1999. The number of homeschool students grew from 850,000 or 1.7% in 1999 of the school-age population to 1,100,000 or 2.2% in 2003, a 29% increase. The percentage of homeshooled White students exceeded Black and Hispanic students.

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Parents were asked which one of the applicable reasons they considered to be their most important reason for homeschooling—31 percent of homeschooled children had parents who cited concern about the environment of other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure, as the most important reason for homeschooling and 30 percent had parents who said the most important reason was to provide religious or moral instruction. While these were the two most common responses, another 16 percent of homeschooled students had parents who said dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools was their most important reason for homeschooling.

April 15, 2006

Schools for the 21st Century

A striking new report, "Results That Matter: 21st Century Skills and Child's eye.jpgHigh School Reform," by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills advances a daring program of change for American high schools. This readable and colorful 24 page document states that "...even if every high school in the country achieved these goals [mastery of traditional subjects] high school graduates would remain woefully lacking in preparation for the world." The report contains brief lists of 21st century skills and knowledge such as: global awareness, civic literacy, entrepreneurial literacy, health awareness, problem solving, collaboration, information technology, and life skills.

The Partnership has three companion reports at its site and seeks the association of other advocates for change.

Portfolio of Schools

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A promising development in offering a choice of diverse school models by districts could be promoted by a "portfolio of schools." The portfolio or an array of school choices could include conventional schools, of course, but also offer parents and students online learning, magnet schools (health careers emphasis, for example), charter schools, a Montessori school, a high technology model, etc. Paul Hill promotes this approach in a 19 page Report, Put Learning First published by the Progressive Policy Institute. Hill describes how a district would change its administration, training, accountability and other practices to implement the approach. Already, a number of districts have a good start on this concept. Education Week has a good summary article, "Portfolio Idea Gaining Favor in Some Cities."

March 22, 2006

School Choice Around the World


The Education Forum, an education policy advocacy organization based in Wellington, New Zealand issued a new report, School Choice, A Hot Topic with findings like:
-96 percent of New Zealand parents wanted to be able to choose the school their children attend.
-The British favor letting parents choose either state or independent schools and have public funding follow children to the chosen school.
-Sweden saw a huge increase in government funded independent schools since school choice was introduced in 1992.
-School choice has continued expanding in the U.S. with both charter and vouchers. Charters now enroll 1,000,000 students in 3400 schools. The first charter school opened in 1992. 100,000 students are served by vouchers and tax funded scholarships. Some 400,000 families are eligible for tax credits for private school tuition. Favorable legislation for school choice continues to be passed by legislatures.

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