Alternative schools are essentially specialized educational environments that place a great deal of emphasis on small classrooms, high teacher-to-student ratios, individualized instruction, noncompetitive performance assessments, and less structured classrooms (Raywid, 1983). The purpose of these schools is to provide academic instruction to students expelled or suspended for disruptive behavior or weapons possession, or who are unable to succeed in the mainstream school environment (Ingersoll and Leboeuf, 1997).
Alternative schools originated to help inner city youth stay in school and obtain an education (Coffee and Pestridge, 2001). In theory, students assigned to alternative schools feel more comfortable in this environment and are more motivated to attend school. Students attending these schools are believed to have higher self-esteem, more positive attitudes toward school, improved school attendance, higher academic performance, and decreased delinquent behavior (Cox, 1999; Cox, Davison, and Bynum, 1995). As a result, many alternative schools are being used to target delinquent youth (Gottfredson, 1987; Arnove and Strout, 1980). These schools serve the dual purpose of reinforcing the message that students are accountable for their crimes and removing disruptive students from the mainstream. In general, alternative schools assess academic and social abilities and skills, assign offenders to programs that allow them to succeed while challenging them to reach higher goals, and provide assistance through small group and individualized instruction and counseling sessions (Ingersoll and Leboeuf, 1997). In addition, students and their families may be assessed to determine whether social services such as health care, parenting classes, and other program services are indicated.
While there is a great degree of variation among alternative schools, research demonstrates that the schools that succeed with this population of youth typically have the following elements:
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