The author of the article, "Achieving the Challenge: Meeting Standards in the Continuation High School" (Stits, 2001) related that "prior to 1983, many continuation high schools existed in districts where expectations were limited to keeping the students in school as much as possible," and also the ideas was to keep those continuation students "away from the traditional high school campus." The implication was clear: there was a stigma that students in continuation school were bad seeds, and the idea was to keep them away from the mainstream lest they have a negative effect on the "good students" in the regular high school.
But eventually, the image of continuations schools in California changed, as communities more and more were trying to prevent school dropouts, and the need for a high school diploma became more important, as well, Stits writes.
HOW DO CONTINUATION SCHOOLS OPERATE?
In an article in the journal Thrust for Educational Leadership (Necochea, et al., 1996), the authors explain that some school districts incorporate "eclecticism" into the fabric of their continuation programs. That means doing what other traditional schools can't or won't do; it also means using creative curriculum designs that offer incentives to continuation students to succeed in their education endeavors.
A few of the creative approaches that teachers offer include: a) students can establish their own time-lines to complete assignments (with teachers signing off on the departure from regular time lines); b) students work within a "credit accrual" system (students can complete credits as quickly or as slowly as they wish, depending on their motivation for learning); c) "modified attendance procedures" result in fewer "punitive measures" applied for absenteeism and a more open-minded approach to encouraging constructive attendance; d) since traditional instructional practices are frequently ineffective for at-risk students, teachers and staff work to create fresh strategies such as "hands-on" instructions, "visuals and manipulatives" and "cooperative learning groups." This last example is made possible by the fact that there are reduced class sizes in most continuation schools, which allow teachers to work with students one-on-one in a "hands-on" format. This is also a way to attract teachers to continuation programs, as it is a fact that in many conventional high school settings, classrooms are overcrowded and teachers don't have the chance to work with students one-on-one very often.
The authors of this article also point out that "team-building" among teachers and staff members is a collaborative and supportive strategy in terms of presenting a viable, interesting program for at-risk students. The authors suggest that teachers and administrative leaders at continuations schools - through team building - "tend to" to the following: "encourage and support innovations"; "offer protection from the greater social system"; build a strong "rapport" with students; and also "coordinate the efforts of outside agencies." Through these team-building strategies, the authors continue, a climate of "experimentation" is fostered, and that climate can (and often does) include reaching out into the community to tap into existing resources that perhaps the conventional schools have not done.
Also, teambuilding tends to engender a policy within staff that the authors term "agree to disagree" on a private, professional level. Indeed, diverse opinions and "open communication" are valued policies in successful continuation schools. Moreover, diversity among the teaching staff in continuations contributes to the effectiveness of the program. Another dynamic that the authors of this article mention is the fact that the continuation school must be prepared to respond positively to the "misunderstanding and suspicions" that arise from the community. Especially during times of tight budgets and "declining resources." The team of teachers and staff members working in continuation programs need to "proactively build acceptance, tolerance and celebration" for the successes - albeit they may be small - that at-risk students experience.
An article in the journal Preventing School Failure (Quinn, et al., 2006) has a somewhat different thrust than previous articles mentioned in this review of the literature. Indeed, this scholarly article asserts that while there has been "a tremendous growth" in the availability of alternative educational programs for at-risk young people, there is "little empirical evidence" available today to actually identify the various components that are required to build effective continuation programs. And so the authors present studies of alternative school programs in order to offer some data and information that can be used by educators in building better continuation programs.
The article begins by presenting the possible reasons why so many young people struggle in traditional school settings. One possible reason - presented by scholar and researcher Nicholas Hobbs - is that the emotional problems many children go through are symptoms of "...a malfunctioning ecosystem" rather than any kind of "individual pathology." Hence, when a child fails, or becomes at risk, it is incumbent on the society to not only work with the child, but to "change the system in order to facilitate their growth in areas of competence, independence, responsibility, and self-respect."
Another reason so many students fail to adjust to traditional schools is not the fault of the system, but is the fault of the student. Many young people who end up in continuation or alternative schools display behaviors that are, according to the authors' research, "cynical." These cynical students posses "antisocial attitudes and behaviors" and they have no idea how to strategize educational or career goals; moreover they suffer from behavioral traits that are a result of bad influences from peer groups they themselves have chosen and from whom they apparently have no desire to escape.
Whether true or not, each of these explanations are just that, projected explanations and not a resolution of real educational problems and issues. Meanwhile, the article points to the history of alternative schools dating back to 1921 in England, when the private residential facility known as "Summerhill" was established by innovative educator a.S. Neill. Summerhill became a movement after gaining respect and popularity in Europe and in the U.S.; the administrators and teachers in those schools believed that "traditional schools confined students and did not respect the personal freedom that students needed in order to learn," according to the article. There was also a movement called the "freedom school" movement, which was launched in the American south. This movement was based on the fact that "traditional schools were not appropriate for African-American students" simply because those traditional schools were designed to produce "subjects, not citizens."
While neither of those approaches has caught on with any degree of popularity with school administrators or parents, they both did emphasize innovations not found in traditional schools. And they led to basically three types of alternative or continuation schools: Type I: schools that students (with the consent of their parents) choose to attend because they place emphasis on innovative programs and strategies; Type II: schools that are known as "last chance schools" that students are usually sent to rather than be expelled permanently from conventional schools; and Type III: schools that are "remedial and therapeutic in nature."
There is a need - the authors suggest - to restructure alternative schools and in the meantime there is also a need to rethink how school districts should approach this restructuring. The authors present three scenarios: one, "change the student" (fix the student by offering temporary assignments "that are highly structured" and contain "therapeutic components"); two, "change the school" (build schools with very positive climates that emphasize innovative curriculum and instructional approaches); and three, "Change the educational system" (offer alternative schools that are more progressive and more responsive to students than many of today's continuation schools, which have a reputation as a dumping grounds for incorrigible youth).
All that having been said, the authors go into great detail as to methods of putting the three scenarios into place in American communities, which makes interesting reading for teachers and others interested in improving educational opportunities for young people.
Community College Week (March, 2004) reports that in Rhode Island, the state department of education has put into effect an innovative and experimental program that blends high school and college courses "...and is designed for students who are in danger of dropping out." The concept is called "middle college" receive their high school diplomas after five years, rather than the traditional four years. Why? Administrators contend that extra year "gives at-risk students extra preparation for college as well as confidence to pursue an advanced degree."
Robert Pilkington, among the leaders of the middle college ("Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy") in Providence, RI, said that the middle college concept was launched because "...there aren't any school structures that allow a [high school] senior to move seamlessly into college." The way it works is that students enter middle college at the start of their junior year in high school; at that time they take a combination of high school and college courses, and three years later they graduate. Once they graduate from the middle college, and finish the…