Alternative High Schools: What Types Of Programs Lead to
the Greatest Level of Effectiveness?
Dr. Tim Gilson
University of Northern Iowa
Based on the writings and research of Mary Anne Raywid (1994) and Gary
Wehlage (1989), this study sought to identify characteristics of effective
alternative high schools in Iowa. This effectiveness was identified as both
student retention and graduate completion. The following characteristics
were not positively related to graduate completion and student retention:
teacher choice, student choice, autonomous schools, and learning community
characteristics of discovery learning and simulation. Teacher and administrator
lengths of service were also not positively related to graduate completion.
As hypothesized, smaller schools did have a negative relationship when
compared to student retention. Overall the findings in this study of Iowa’s
rural alternative high schools did not support the research hypotheses. All
schools, however, regardless of specific characteristics, can be effective when
given the right combination of learning attributes. This research does help to
lay the groundwork for those traits, as well as for future studies.
Review of Literature
One in eight students does not complete high school (McMillen, 1997).
Minorities, the poor, and the disabled often fare even worse. Over 50 percent
of students in a quarter of the nation’s poor, urban high schools fail to graduate
(Braddock & McPartland, 1993). Suspension, expulsion, retention, chronic
failure, and alienation all contribute to unacceptable dropout and incompletion
rates. In response to these issues, many states have created alternative schools
to address the needs of students at risk for school failure.
Despite the accelerated growth of alternative schools, research and
evaluation of these schools and the effect they have on student retention
and academic achievement levels is very limited. Many schools do not...