Reports from ARC, Law Center examine alternative education

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Accountability Review Council (ARC), an independent panel that monitors District reform efforts, and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania recently released studies that raise questions about the effectiveness of alternative and disciplinary schools.

Alternative schools include accelerated programs for dropouts and over-age students with few credits as well as disciplinary schools serving students who have violated the District’s code of conduct.

Both studies call for greater accountability and results from this growing system of Philadelphia schools, which has produced disappointingly low graduation rates.

According to the ARC report, one in 10 District students has attended an alternative school. Only 23 percent of over-age students attending an accelerated program earned their high school diplomas, and just 5 percent did so in a two-year period.

Things aren’t much better at the District’s disciplinary schools. Only 32 percent of students re-enter comprehensive schools. Just 41 percent of returning students actually graduate.

The law center’s report, “Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth Programs,” recommends that teachers in these programs not be exempt from state teacher qualification requirements. It also calls for timely public reporting on program performance and more services for English language learners and special education students.

For-profit companies manage nearly all the District’s alternative and disciplinary schools. Ben Wright, assistant superintendent for alternative education, said that provider contracts are based on student achievement and added, “If they don’t [come through], we take the kids back.”

The District recently terminated its long-standing contract with Community Education Partners, which ran disciplinary and accelerated schools.