The 21st Century’s Alternative Approaches to Education

The 21st century has seen a boom in alternative schooling. But what are these other educational systems? How do they work? What is their draw? In this article, we talk some of the most common alternative schools that have come to prominence over the recent decades.

Charter schools are K–12 schools that receive government money but are freed from the usual constraints of public schools in exchange for increased accountability for academic achievement, delineated in the school’s charter. Charter schools were originally conceived by Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in 1988. Minnesota was the first state to develop a charter school law in 1991.

In the early 2010s, charter schools began receiving great deal of attention as an alternative to traditional public schools. Although many have lauded charter schools as emblematic of reform and possibility, several factors are important to consider when discussing them. One of those points is accountability. Even though charter schools receive public funds, they are not accountable in the traditional manner. They must meet specified standards of performance, but have no agreed-upon level of performance across state lines, so the levels of evaluating and monitoring these types of schools vary widely across the country (this will change with the implementation of CCSS, especially for states that receive Race to the Top funds). Many local, state, and federal standards must still be met, but some are waived.

Another learning environment that is taking hold in the 21st century is the online format. Standards for judging the effectiveness of this type of teaching and learning environment have not been established, primarily because this form of education is so new. Charter schools have embraced online learning and often use this method of education delivery (in part or as a total mode). Because this mode of education is growing in popularity, a method of tracking performance is being developed.

Yet another educational option is homeschooling, with parents providing instruction to their children at home. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 1.1 million children are being homeschooled. State-by-state standards for homeschooling need to be addressed. As it stands, very few states choose to exercise control over homeschools. Those states that do show some control may require homeschooled children to pass state-appropriate grade-level assessments.

Lastly, the voucher program has been toyed with since the 1950s. Practical problems make it difficult to implement the use of vouchers. It is difficult, for example, to come up with an equal system when private schools and public schools may have widely varying costs per pupil. And eligibility requirements for particular categories of students have never been established. Currently, students can fall into widely divergent categories, depending on the school system involved. Categories could range from autistic students to disabled students to students grouped by age, income, or residence.

The use of private vouchers, as it turns out, is less popular than the vouchers associated with public systems. In the private voucher systems, monies are typically collected from individual donors, such as religious organizations or corporations. The funds are then awarded through grants to low-income families. A similar program to the voucher system involves tax credit programs.

Expenses for schooling are credited through the tax system with reimbursements. While the voucher and tax credit programs may appear to be controlled by market forces, that is not the case in practice. Issues have arisen during the administration of these types of programs, including limits on particular students allowed to participate, the entanglement of bureaucracy, and monetary limits.

Public schooling may still have some issues to sort out, but that statement is true for alternative schools, too. New methods may bypass some of public school’s problems, but they are not yet flawless. Hopefully, as schools move forward into the 21st century, powerful educational reform will help school systems of all types shape up and shoot forward.

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