Originally created 11/18/99

Teachers: Alternative schools are not doing job



ATLANTA -- Separate schools for rowdy students have succeeded in making regular schools safer for other students, but few teachers of traditional classes think the schools offer adequate preparation for graduation, a new report shows.

The report, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education, was released Wednesday by Superintendent Linda Schrenko a day before she presents it to the state school board.

"The accusation has been, and let's get it out on the table up front, that the alternative schools are dumping grounds for young African-American male students," she said. "Those kids who end up getting assigned to alternative schools are usually the ones who are going to be out on the streets anyhow. They've been expelled, or dropped out or truant."

The report shows 73 percent of the 15,000 students assigned to alternative schools are boys and 55 percent are black, a greater proportion of both than in Georgia's regular schools.

Just 39 percent of the alternative students return to their base schools, while only about 40 percent of teachers at those base schools say the alternative schools prepared the students for high school graduation. More than a quarter of those students end up back in alternative schools because of their behavior.

The study is tracking students who have left alternative schools to see how many eventually graduate, but it is too early to tell. A report next year will offer more concrete conclusions, said David Harmon, director of research and evaluation planning for the department.

Students in the program because of behavior problems eventually tend to perform better than those sent because of attendance or criminal reasons.

Overall, the program meets its main purpose of making most classrooms safer by removing troublemakers, experts agree.

"If you look at it from a statewide perspective, it has been very effective," said Terry Jenkins, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

The most specific recommendation of the report is to make the teaching more academically rigorous, a point Mr. Jenkins and Mrs. Sckrenko concede.

Mrs. Schrenko plans to ask the school board today to implement suggestions in the report, which can be done without new legislation. Those ideas include getting more support from base schools, staffing alternative schools with better educated and more experienced teachers, and evaluating student progress individually rather than based on rigid requirements.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.