Alternative Education: Exploring Innovations in Learning

June 2014

Alternative education programming offers at-risk students more customized options to achieve a high school diploma and prepare for college and careers. A sector born of necessary innovation, alternative education typically features flexible scheduling, multiple means to earn credit, differentiated instruction, and creative uses of technology and hands-on learning. These student-centered programs provide, arguably, some of the strongest examples of how to move beyond a “factory model” of K-12 education and create more customized learning opportunities that have the potential to benefit all students. However, they have remained an underexplored resource in the Commonwealth’s education reform efforts. By bringing alternative education into the core of statewide reform and improving data- and knowledge-sharing, state leaders have an opportunity to build capacity where it is needed and draw lessons from this innovative sector to create a more fluid, seamless system that supports all students to overcome challenges and achieve long-term success.

In this policy brief, Alternative Education: Exploring Innovations in Learning, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy provides a first-of-its-kind baseline assess¬ment of Massachusetts’ alternative education offerings. Research findings highlight existing alternative practices and examine how programming for the state’s at-risk students might be improved and better leveraged to guide broader, system-wide reform. Discussion is based on analysis of statewide data and interviews with district and alternative leaders in seven school districts. The policy brief is organized into several major sections: a national overview of alternative education, including evidence of best practices; programmatic characteristics of alternative education in Massachusetts; characteristics of students participating in Massachusetts alternative education; opportunities and impediments for scale; and considerations for policymakers.

This brief was the subject of discussion at a public event on June 10, 2014.


Interactive Map
Below is an interactive dashboard examining alternative education programs and schools across Massachusetts. The map highlights districts in which alternative education programs and schools exist and provides information about graduation rates across the state. Alternative education can be a powerful tool to increase graduation rates among districts’ at-risk students. The interactive dashboard displays the locations of alternative programs publicly reported by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (as of spring 2014).

Report Year