We Have a Problem With Alternative Ed in This Country, and We Need to Talk About It

It’s time to stop treating alternative students as lesser than.

We Have a Problem With Alternative Ed in This Country

Educate every child. That is the audacious aim of American education. Sometimes I marvel at our commitment to that aim. Other times, that pursuit seems overwhelming, given the diverse learners in any and every classroom. But, no matter how daunting the task, we go into education wanting every child to succeed. Or do we sometimes forget that goal? Lately, I’ve been troubled by an observation that we have a problem with alternative ed in this country.

Sometimes we treat alternative schools, programs, and the students in them as “lesser than.”

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this firsthand. I’ve heard and read comments alluding to alternative education as a waste of time. Others comments take on an air of “good riddance” to these trouble makers. At a staff meeting, one comment “jokingly” compared alternative students to future convicts.  

Alternative schools maintain our commitment to educate every child. But sometimes we degrade rather than commend them. Alternative students are resilient learners who don’t give up. But sometimes we treat them as failures. 

Last year, sparked by what I was hearing about alternative schools, I took another visit our district’s alternative high school. I listened to students’ stories—their frustrations and hopes. I sat with passionate alternative education teachers about the work they do. What these students and educators wanted was for all of us to shift our views—to see alternative students as unique, determined people, to see alternative education as an incredible option for those who don’t fit our traditional approaches.

“I Am an Alternative” is the product of these conversations.  It is a joint collaboration between teachers and students at Renaissance High School, Rhino Media, and me. 

Watch the video here: