Law is needed to stop alternative programs from being 'dumping grounds,' education leader says

02/14/2011 08:46 PM

Changing the law is necessary to set standards and improve alternative programs aimed at students who struggle in the traditional classroom settings, said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

More than 65,000 students currently participate in such alternative programs, which range from online high school credit courses to dual-credit programs in conjunction with community and technical colleges.

But a few alternative programs in some districts have been neglected and used simply to take students with behavorial problems out of the classrooms — and sometimes to punish teachers as well, Holliday said.

“Sometimes I’ve been in districts where the alternative program was a dumping ground for kids and a dumping ground for professionals too,” he said.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed support for alternative programs. Adding oversight and standards is part of a bill in the House that would raise the dropout age from 16 to 18.

Holliday said many of the students who drop out are smart but lost their way mainly because they got bored.

“We found 60-70% of dropouts had the grades — they were OK grade-wise, they just didn’t see the relevance in school or were bored in school,” said Holliday, whose son finished high school in North Carolina through an online alternative program to make up credits.

Holliday said even though the Department of Education can make regulations to better define and keep up with alternative programs, the legislature needed to pass a law giving the department permission to outline those expectations.

“The weight of law is always heavier than regulatory language,” he said.

To get started, the state board of education awarded $100,000 grants to six school districts to plan for alternative programs with local colleges that would allow students to simultaneously get high school diplomas and associates degrees.

- Ryan Alessi


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