I’m overdue in providing a link to a Pro Publica article first published Dec. 22 that highlights an education effort that sets Arkansas apart in a good way.
It’s about how Arkansas makes a serious effort to reach floundering students in alternative schools, rather than just warehousing them. The focus is on the Gateway school in Bentonville, but the article credits a statewide effort.
In other states, such schools are often spare and prison-like, offer computer-based courses instead of meaningful interaction with teachers, and provide little counseling. Many students are subjected to harsh discipline and, some allege, even physical abuse.
But in Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the country, educators have taken another path. The state government has encouraged — and helped pay for — a network of local alternative schools with rich academic offerings, social and mental health support, and standards modeled on what research shows works best to reduce bad behavior, poor grades and absenteeism.
Arkansas allocates an extra $4,600 for each alternative school student — on top of the standard state and local expenditure of $6,700 per pupil. For alternative schools to receive the extra stipend, classes can have no greater than a 1:15 teacher-student ratio (and many are smaller). Even students in small schools often can choose from electives and career-vocational classes and participate in clubs and sports. Mental health counseling is generally available.
It’s difficult to calculate a graduation rate for the state’s alternative schools, because they’re mostly grouped for statistical purposes with regular schools, to which nearly a quarter of their students return. Still, their emergence coincided with a decline in Arkansas’ overall dropout rate from 2002 to 2012, a November state report shows. Another indicator of their success: although traditional schools are encouraged to recommend only about 3 percent of their students for alternative schools, nearly 10 percent of all graduates in the state have spent some time in alternative education.
Some states’ approach to alternative education is to “take the least and give them less,” says state Alternative Education Director Lori Lamb. “We don’t do that in Arkansas.”
A reader who directed such schools called the article to my attention this morning. He notes the effort dates back to a requirement in the mid-1990s, then an unfunded mandate that became a higher priority thanks to the Lakeview school funding decision. The article details how poorly some states respond to the needs of these students. The reporter visited — and lauded — alternative schools in Russellville, Springdale
Who says there’s never any good news?