Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress, in partnership with Eskolta School Research and Design, released a new report exploring various ways that states and localities can hold accountable alternative schools, which serve students who struggle to succeed in traditional public schools. Using data from the New York City Department of Education, the authors of the report take a deep-dive look at how the city is doing in monitoring the progress of students in alternative and traditional public schools relative to the metrics it uses to evaluate institutional success.
The report finds that of the 1 in 8 New York City public high school students who began high school in 2008 and had fallen two or more years behind within the first three years of high school, just 13.2 percent graduated within six years among those who stayed enrolled in a traditional public school. Alternatively, those who transitioned to an alternative school graduated by more than double that rate—29.9 percent—within the same time frame.
“This report suggests that alternative schools, when held appropriately accountable, can be more successful at serving some of our most disenfranchised students than traditional public schools,” said Laura Jimenez, co-author of the report and director of standards and accountability at CAP. “But there’s a big problem. While just 6 percent of students attend alternative schools, these schools account for nearly one-quarter of all school closures. With the number of students in alternative schools having surged over the past decade, it’s critical that states and localities address this disconnect by adopting accountability systems that fairly evaluate the success of these schools and their students.”
The report includes a series of recommendations for states and districts to hold alternative schools accountable, including the following:
- Consider measuring alternative school success using indices for graduation rate; academic proficiency; and school quality and student success.
- Develop a uniform definition of alternative schools for the state, including the student population served, educational setting, and programmatic characteristics.
- Work in partnership with other states or districts to ensure data integrity and sophistication.
- Pilot, validate, and refine measures of accountability, and seek the explicit feedback of school leaders and teachers on the data collection process.
“For hundreds of thousands of students, alternative high schools provide a second chance in a system that has failed them,” said Michael Rothman,
executive director of Eskolta School Research and Design. “Without carefully crafted measures to appropriately determine success in these second-chance schools, states end up closing them at a disproportionate rate, perpetuating the problem. The Every Student Succeeds Act has given a ray of hope, but states and districts have not done enough with it. Many don’t even recognize the urgency of the need. This report will help states figure out why they need to think about accountability differently and how to go about doing it. For the students most at risk in our system—students who are disproportionately black and Latino, many of them living in the poorest neighborhoods in our country, many of them homeless or in foster care or struggling with abuse and wellness—and who have been branded failures in public schools hamstrung by a one-size-fits-all approach to accountability, we need to get this right.”