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Thompson: Alternative Schools and School Turnarounds

Alternativeschools Much of the Gates Foundation's, This Works for Me series could have been written by teachers and their unions.  As urban teachers keep saying, usually to deaf ears, charters and other individual turnaround schools have the backing of a huge alternative school system - called neighborhood schools. Too many reforms require "creaming" of easier-to-educate students and the best educators, leaving a greater critical mass of challenges for neighborhood schools. Gates now recommends "Consider using different measures of success for off-track students" (emphasis theirs.) They also report "more than three fourths of teachers and principals supported what researchers described as alternative learning environments as a way to reduce the dropout rate.

In focus groups, 'educators felt these environments would provide at-risk students more choices in finding a school that is more relevant to their lives ...'"  So, in addition to the small schools, theme schools, and small learning learning communities that have widespread support among teachers, they make the recommendation that teachers would die for, investments in "transition schools," "alternative schools." and "recuperative schools." 

The Gates-funded Public Agenda poll also shows that 90% of teachers believe that discipline problems are serious impediments, and 68% believe that alternative placements for those students would be effective.  

The Public Insight poll further reported:

"What Researchers Say

Highly effective instruction will reduce, but not entirely eliminate, student behavioral problems (Emmer & Stough, 2001); however, researchers have yet to adequately investigate the impact of the practice of reassigning particularly disruptive students to different classrooms on either the student that is removed or the students that remain in the classroom. Researchers also hypothesize that removing a student from class creates a negative reinforcement trap, whereby both teacher and student are given immediate relief, but learning is ultimately hindered (Oliver & Reschly, 2007). Nevertheless, there is evidence that average student achievement (i.e., overall teacher effectiveness) is higher in schools where student discipline issues are addressed ... (Hirsch 2009)."

Afterthought.  Gayle Andrews at the National Journal does a nice job of explaining Robert Balfanz' research on middle school students not being served by people hoping that troubled kids will just grow out of the behavior that is wrecking their educational futures.

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