About two thirds of American students leave high school unprepared for college and careers; almost a third drop out and another third graduate unprepared to earn college credit. There are lots of reasons, but now that there's agreement that students should graduate college/career ready, it's clear that American high schools (and middle schools) are not up to the task.
Most urban kids show up in 9th grade below grade level and many of them quickly fall behind, become discouraged and eventually drop out. Some that act out or display signs of trouble end up in 'alternative schools' that are often not a very good alternative.
Now there are better alternatives. Over the last few months I've been working with Performance Learning Centers and serving on the AdvancePath Academies board. Both combine online learning and onsite support to create a personalized and accelerated environment that allows students to catch up and graduate on time.
AdvancePath students typically enter earning credits at one quarter the normal rate and quickly begin earning credits faster than kids in regular courses--a 300% improvement in the rate of credit accumulation.
PLC and AdvancePath students can choose the order of their courses and work at their own pace. They receive one-on-one and small group support when they need help. Academies are small no-drama environments where teachers know and believe in their students. The Modesto Bee has some great stories and photos here.
AdvancePath hires district teachers and costs about half of what districts typically spend on alternative programs. Kids like it, it works, and it's affordable. I'd call that a better alternative.
The Department of Education hopes to increase the focus on graduation rates in the reauthorization of federal education policy. That is likely to spur growth of quality alternatives like PLCs and AdvancePath Academies.