Alternative High Schools: Pros and Cons

Jan 19, 2011

Education is not one size fits all - some students struggle with the traditional American high school experience. For these teens, alternative high schools can represent a different environment that allows them to thrive. Learn more about the potential benefits and downsides of these schools.

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alternative high school pros cons

Meeting a Need

High school is a formative period in the lives of American youth. For some students, it's an energizing, exciting experience that flies by quickly. For others, however, high school can be negative and overwhelming. Standardized instruction, large class sizes, lack of individualized support and other factors can lead students to believe they are alone in the crowd. Often characterized as a place for 'at-risk' students, alternative schools can be the answer for those who don't fit into a traditional high school.

alternative high school pros cons

Delivering an Alternative Experience

Alternative schools can individualize a student's education in ways that may not be possible at larger high schools. These schools tend to be smaller and, in turn, have smaller class sizes. In this setting, students may receive more one-on-one attention from teachers and staff. This can translate into increased learner engagement, better understanding of subject matter and improved grades.

Smaller student populations and class sizes aren't the only potential benefit of alternative schools. The curricula at these institutions often differ from traditional high schools - classes can be tailored to meet different learners' needs. In addition, specialized programming may feature arts instruction, gifted education, technology training or preparation for select career areas.

Alternative schools can also help students catch up and graduate with their class or get ahead to graduate early. An added benefit to alternative schools is flexible scheduling, which can be advantageous for students who work or have children.

alternative high school pros cons

Not for Everyone

Just as large public high schools are not right for everyone, neither are alternative schools. These institutions offer curricula and learning opportunities that students comfortable in larger schools may regard as less intensive. Additionally, opportunities to join sports teams and other extracurricular programs abundant at many public high schools may not be present in alternative education settings.

Due to the nature of alternative schools, there is concern that students don't learn the skills needed for success in postsecondary education. Critics contend that classes are less rigorous, and graduates are not competitive when applying for college. However, there are a variety of alternative schools with a college preparation focus.

Another factor: Alternative high schools often have a reputation for educating young people considered to be 'misfits' or 'troublemakers.' While some of these teens have earned their labels by not fitting in at traditional schools, they can also have attitudes and perspectives that don't always resonate with the average student.

For students who have difficulties assimilating into large public schools, alternative high schools can represent another option. Given the variety of alternative schools, individuals must consider their personalities and educational goals in order to find the education setting that best suits them.

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