Alternative Schools Need Flexibility
On May 7, 2014, Mike Galluzzo, Co-Director of the CT Principals’ Center, gave testimony to the Connecticut State Board of Education in anticipation of proposed legislation concerning alternative schools. The cogent ideas he presented – which were discussed at meetings this year with principals and other practitioners – are published below.
The Policy and Legislative Committee of the state board met in April and members received a report on the status of the work which Charlene Russell-Tucker is leading with regard to alternative school programs. It is our understanding that there is a placeholder bill before the legislature that has yet to be developed.
Most of the students attending alternative school programs will benefit from greater flexibility in their school programs in order to keep them connected. Without compromising CT standards, alternative schools would benefit from flexibility in the number of hours that a student must be in school. For example, some students would benefit from relevant off-site internships which would provide an alternative approach to learning content embedded in the local curriculum. In addition, schools and districts need to have flexibility in their accountability system so that students are able to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in relevant ways. Such practices could potentially be abused; therefore, the state department would need to establish standards for the development and operation of alternative school programs.
One of the issues faced by urban schools in several communities is high mobility rates. For example, one nearby urban high school in 2012-2013 enrolled 292 transfer students in grades 10, 11, and 12, approximately 12% of the total school population. For schools who receive large numbers of students who are not on track for graduation in four years, the public reports for graduation rates are depressed because they must report on the four year graduation rate. One of the considerations for the alternative schools bill should be consideration of the graduation reporting requirements. This needs to be rethought for traditional high school programs as well.
During the winter we at CAS convened a large group of urban educators to meet with legislators in Hartford. These principals and central office administrators consider the over-age and under-credited student group to be a severely underserved population. Some of these students participate in alternative school programs and many do not. Magnet and charter schools, for all of the positive benefits they offer, have not attracted these underserved students in significant numbers, thereby resulting in many of these students clustering in urban schools where the achievement gap is most significant. Noting that the state has not made progress on closing the gap, we have an underserved population, which magnet and charter schools are not serving in large numbers and which, in at least some cases, are not retained when they have gained entry. In the 2012-2013 school year, for example, 59 of the 292 transfer students came from magnet or charter schools. These staggering figures lead us to think that similar urban public schools are faced with near insurmountable challenges which need to be addressed in a comprehensive and thoughtful way. Some of these students suffer from significant unmet emotional issues, others from drug and alcohol problems, in addition to their academic skill deficits and need for high quality academic services. In sum, magnet and charter schools haven’t solved the achievement gap problem and the education system has not responded adequately to the needs of these most challenged students. Indeed, some of these problems implicate services and systems beyond the educational one.
The recommendations contained in the Master Plan recently released by the Achievement Gap Task Force provide a comprehensive approach to preparing all students to be college and career ready. It is our hope that the State Board will advocate for policies and legislation in support of the Master Plan.