What is Alternative Education?
The standard K-12 educational experience in the United States is pretty universal. Whether a student attends an urban or suburban school, or a large or small school, they will cover similar curricular topics, using similar methods.
When parents start to explore schools for their children, they may wonder about nontraditional options for their student. These other options are what many refer to as alternative education. Parents may ask themselves, what is alternative education, and would my student benefit from this experience? We’re here to help answer those questions.
Alternative education is an educational experience that is separate from the traditional, mainstream educational program. It is often provided for students who are considered at-risk, or for students who have academic, social, or behavior issues. There are many types of alternative education options available including military schools, religious schools, homeschooling, and Montessori schools.
Benefits of Alternative Education
Many students do not feel like they can perform well in a traditional school setting for a variety of reasons. Students suffering from social and emotional issues might desire a less overwhelming atmosphere than a traditional school might offer. Some students need smaller class sizes with more supervision.
Students who have social or behavioral issues may require more structure and guidance than a traditional school can provide. Some families prefer a school with more religious emphasis because they would like their student exposed to a religion-based curriculum.
Private Versus Public Schools
Families can decide if they prefer a traditional public school or a private school. The most obvious difference between public and private schools is the cost. Public schools are available for all students at no cost to the parent, whereas private school costs vary depending on the school. Parents generally pay a yearly tuition for a private school.
Public schools must provide an education for all students who live in the district. They cannot turn students away. Private schools, on the other hand, have the right to select their students using their own admissions standards.
While most public schools are considered traditional, there are some nontraditional public schools students can attend. These include special education schools, charter schools, and vocational schools. These public schools have special curriculums that meet the needs of a very specific population of students.
Public schools have to follow state standards and offer all opportunities as outlined by state laws. Students in public schools follow strict guidelines and benchmarks throughout grades K-12 to help prepare them for post-high school success. Teachers in public schools must be certified to teach based on the state’s requirements.
Private schools have varying levels of accountability depending on the state’s requirements. Some states require private schools to go through an accreditation process, but others do not. Teachers in a private school often do not have to hold the same teaching certification as public school teachers, and can sometimes be approved to teach with a bachelor’s degree without further certification.
Generally, families who opt for private schools do so because these schools meet needs not provided by public schools. Sometimes it is a specific curriculum that their children want, or the availability of more hands-on learning experiences. Private schools may also offer more personal attention via smaller class sizes.
If students want to explore alternative education, there are numerous types of schools available.
Religious schools are private schools that include a core curriculum similar to traditional schools, but with an added curricular focus on religion. Students might have a schedule with math, science, social studies, English, and religious studies classes. Students might attend religious services during the school day.
These schools have the freedom to worship and pray throughout the day, and to teach lessons from a particular religious viewpoint.
A military school starts with traditional curriculum, but adds military standards and expectations to the curriculum. While some students choose a military school because they have behavioral issues in a traditional setting, this is not always the case. Some students attend military school because they want to be exposed to military values.
Students at a military school learn discipline, leadership, and personal development. Some of these schools are boarding schools where the students live on campus during the school year.
Montessori schools focus on the student and their intellectual choices. There is a lot of freedom to explore and learn in these classes. There are no textbooks or whole group guided lessons. Students are free to wander the classroom, exploring whatever interests them. Students are grouped in three-year age groups such as 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and 12-15.
As students get older, they do self-guided research, presentations, and group projects. The students must also accomplish the state requirements for a private school alongside their Montessori curriculum.
Homeschooling allows parents to instruct their own children on core academic subjects. Parents can also add instruction that fits the family’s religious or moral values as well. States have different homeschooling standards, but many require a curriculum to be approved, and parents to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent.
Graduation requirements can vary for students who are home-schooled. Some states require a certain score on a nationally recognized test, or the demonstration of knowledge using a portfolio of work. Students who are home-schooled sometimes participate in extracurricular activities offered in public schools.
Supplementing Traditional Education
Alternative schools have many of the same standards and requirements that traditional schools have. Alternative schools use different methods to help students to achieve those standards.
Alternative education can be an option for students who desire a nontraditional approach to education while still having the opportunity to learn a similar core curriculum that is offered in a traditional school.