A confusing article was just published by USA Today using the term “for-profit charter alternative school.” I’ve never seen a charter school described this way before. Charter schools and alternative schools are two different schools. And since Betsy DeVos is crookedly selling school choice to America, it is important to understand the difference.
So I am reviewing two meanings of two schools, charter schools and alternative schools.
The article came from a larger ProPublica report called “‘Alternative’ Education: Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System, by
We learn in the report that students were pushed out of a high-functioning high school in Orlando into a for-profit charter school called Sunshine, run by Acelerated Learning Solutions.
They literally had no plan for instruction. Students were seated in front of computers with no guidance.
Of course this is outrageous. But there is a blurring of the lines in the report between a for-profit charter school and alternative schools run by a public school system. There is a huge difference between the two.
For the record, some lump all schools like magnet, charter, and private under the broader term alternative schools.
But only magnet and actual alternative schools are run by the local school district. Charters, especially for-profit charters, take public taxpayer dollars, but are managed by outside organizations or individuals.
ProPublica makes some good points about charter schools, and they address inadequacies in California’s alternative schools, but they overlap charter schools with alternative schools, and that’s confusing.
Alternative schools are real public schools that were started in the 1970s to address the needs of students who are at-risk of dropping out of school. They are public schools through and through even though they address instruction differently than traditional public schools.
Sometimes they are also called magnet schools. Here is an example of some alternative schools.
Alternative programs for students might be set up in schools, or they are separately run within the school district. They receive oversight by the local school board and the community but are given freedom to do things differently to keep students engaged.
Alternative schools often provide individualized plans. They include smaller settings, and they have well-qualified teachers who work closely with students and families. Many of these schools are quite creative.
Some wonder why all public schools aren’t alternative schools, and that’s a good question. But, for now, let’s focus on the difference between alternative schools and charter schools.
Alternative schools do not always serve students with disabilities since those students are eligible for special education services.
Also, like public schools, scrutiny of alternative schools indicates they are not always doing well. ProPublica does provide a report about California’s alternative schools that is far from glowing.
But they also lump together charter schools as alternative schools and this is a mistake.
Charter schools are public in that they take public dollars. They don’t always have the oversight alternative schools must have.
There are other differences. Charter schools originally promised to deal with students who were at-risk, providing unique learning activities. Some charters might still do this—but many do not.
We know that charter schools are often strict and push at-risk students out. We have seen this time and time again with special education and ELL students and also with students who have challenging behaviors.
Many charter school managers, nonprofit and for-profit, don’t know what to do with students who exhibit demanding behavior. These schools are not set up with the background support.
There is no doubt that for-profit charters like the one in Orlando have not been doing right by students, but throwing in the “alternative” word condemns alternative schools.
This merges what’s public with what’s not public. There’s a serious distinction there, and we must clarify the meaning of public education whenever possible.