Alternative education is an educational approach that differs from the conventional K-12 system. It includes home schooling, special programs for gifted children, and charter schools. It has been around since the 1960s and evolved from small innovations in local communities into an education-reform movement that impacts millions of young people. Today, alternative education is a mainstream educational approach in almost every community in the United States. While some views hold that alternative schools are not as effective as traditional schools, others view them as a useful alternative.
While alternative schools began to appear in the United States during the late 1960s, they have now spread across the globe. A 1996 study by Jerry Mintz found that alternative education programs had spread to 23 nations. While Canada had the highest number of programs (114), most other nations had fewer than five. Today, approximately 30 percent of the country’s student population attends alternative schools, which receive state charters and public funding.
Many alternative schools focus on experiential learning. Founded by John Dewey, many of these programs emphasize learning by doing. For example, Outward Bound and Foxfire encourage students to collect folklore in their communities, and other programs offer expeditions to learn in unconventional places. These programs can help children develop skills essential for life and success.
Among the benefits of alternative education programs are low student-teacher ratios and personalized attention. Alternative schools are designed for specific groups of students. They offer more personalized care, a sense of pride, and a sense of community. Some of them are also located away from traditional high schools, making them accessible to students who want them.
In contrast to traditional schools, alternative schools focus on social competence in students. Teachers attribute value to consequential practices and social competence, and they project desired outcomes for students. Their students were also expected to graduate from these schools with employment or other desirable outcomes. One alternative school focused on social competence, for example, was a behavioral alternative school.
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