The quality of
an alternative school consists of two main components:
(i.e., the school climate, curriculum, including the school location,
the activities, etc.), and b)
(i.e., the teachers, the administrative staff etc). Thus three
main categories of problems can occur
there are good curricula, but poor implementation; other times there are
great teachers in poor working environments. There are some
alternative schools with excellent staff and a well-designed curriculum;
and in the alternative systems of most concern are poor teachers, with
More so than
in mainstream education, there area a wide variety in the quality of
alternative schools - e.g., Montessori, Steiner, Charter Schools,
Schools for Troubled Youth, Outdoor Education. Some programs are
fantastic, many are OK, and some have significant problems.
evidence of the degree of match between the stated mission and goals and
the actual curriculum/practice - because there is little standardization
across alternative schools, be aware that actual program content varies
evidence of evaluation and research outcomes. A good quality
alternative school that has been around for more than 5 years should be
able to present hard evidence of its short and long-term effects on
What are the
qualifications of the directing staff and the instructing staff?
The qualifications and past work history of the staff will provide a
good indication of the likely emphases and focus of the program.
How are the
staff recruited and trained?
Is the school
accredited with appropriate state or national bodies?
visit the school or a presentation by staff from the school. Be
aware of over-relying on printed brochures or the internet for
developing a picture of the actual practice of a school.
whether an alternative school is likely to help any particular child to
best fulfill his or her potential.
schools' annual report. Read between the lines and it can help you
to form an impression of the overall health of the school
administratively. If they have financial problems, be aware that
they are likely to be trying to get more students through the door, so
they may be less selective. Struggling programs often take on more
difficult students than they are actually capable of providing good
If you are
looking for an alternative school or residential educational place then
read over Lon Woodbury's
"Struggling Teens" site - it is packed with over 15 years of his
advice as an educational consultant.
If you are
looking at a therapeutic outdoor program, read Michael Connor's advice
for parents via his
If you are
looking for advice about what makes a quality camp, I recommend Randall
Grayson's "Vision Realization"