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Specialized Instruction

Alternative education means different things to different people. The definitions can range from a different approach to education that meets the needs of youth at-risk and increases their chance for success in learning and school, to the last ditch opportunity for students who have been suspended or expelled or a re-entry to school after a release from the juvenile justice system. In Iowa, alternative education is a perspective not a procedure or a program. It is based upon a belief that there are many ways to become educated, as well as many types of environments and structures within which this may occur.

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Iowa Code and Iowa Administrative Code define alternative education language in the following ways:

Iowa Administrative Code 281-12.2(256)
"Alternative program" means a class or environment established within the regular educational program and designed to accommodate specific student educational needs such as, but not limited to, work-related training; reading, mathematics or science skills; communication skills; social skills; physical skills; employability skills; study skills; or life skills.

"Alternative school" means an environment established apart from the regular educational program and that includes policies and rules, staff, and resources designed to accommodate student needs and to provide a comprehensive education consistent with the student learning goals and content standards established by the school district or by the school districts participating in a consortium. Students attend by choice.

Iowa Code 280.19A - Alternative Options Education Programs - Disclosure of Records.
By January 15, 1995, each school district shall adopt a plan to provide alternative options education programs to students who are either at-risk of dropping out or have dropped out. An alternative options education program may be provided in a district, through a sharing agreement with a school in a contiguous district, or through an area-wide program available at the community college serving the merged area where the school district is located. Each area education agency shall provide assistance in establishing a plan to provide alternative education options to students attending a public school in a district served by the agency. Each area education agency shall provide assistance in establishing a plan to provide alternative education options to students attending a public school in a district served by the agency.

Iowa Code 282.19 - Child Living in Foster Care Facility
A child who is living in a licensed child foster care facility as defined in section 237.1, or in a facility that provides residential treatment as "facility" is defined in section 125.2, which is located in a school district other than the school district in which the child resided before receiving foster care may enroll in and attend an accredited school in the school district in which the child is living. The instructional costs for students who do not require special education shall be paid as provided in section 282.31, subsection 1, paragraph "b" or for students who require special education shall be paid as provided in section 282.31, subsections 2 or 3.

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High quality alternative education programs are generally known for their adherence to youth development principles (Smith and Thomases 2001, NGA Center for Best Practices 2001) such as:

  • Physical and psychological safety (e.g., safe facilities, safe ways to handle conflicts between youth, etc.)
  • Appropriate structure (limit setting, clear rules, predictable structure to how program functions, etc.)
  • Supportive relationships (with adults and peers)
  • Opportunities to belong (meaningful inclusion)
  • Positive social norms (expectations of behaviors, etc.)
  • Support for efficacy and making a difference (empowering youth, challenging environment, chances for leadership, etc.)
  • Opportunities for skill building (e.g., learning about social, communication skills, etc., as well as media literacy, good habits of the mind, etc.)
  • Integration of family, school, and especially community efforts (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2001)

The best programs also address the specific needs of children from various racial and ethnic groups and those with special needs (including students with learning or other disabilities that have not yet been identified). Programs can be on campus, a school-within-a-school, or in a separate building or facility. Students may attend by choice, be referred, or placed by authorities/staffing team in an alternative program.

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In Iowa, alternative high schools must meet all of the requirements of Iowa Administrative Code 281-12 General Accreditation Standards. An alternative school is an environment separate from the comprehensive school and each school has its own policies, rules, staff and resources to provide programming for student learning goals and content standards. Students attend alternative high schools by choice.

Effective alternative high schools incorporate the 10 principles for effective schools.

Multiple Pathways to the Future

Pathways are programs of academic and technical study that integrate classroom and real-world learning organized around multiple sectors of industry (Hoachlander).

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An Overview of Alternative Education (2006) - This is a study that reviews some preliminary efforts to develop a typology and define 'alternative education,' as well as several promising programs, models, and initiatives that provide out-of-school youth with real second chance opportunities. (34 pages)

Center for Mental Health in Schools Online Clearinghouse (Topic: Alternative Schools and Alternative Education) - Howard Edelman and Linda Taylor from the School Mental Health Project Center at UCLA have put together a collection of documents, resources and tools for districts in the area of alternative education. This clearinghouse has a wealth of resources for alternative education.

21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness (2008) - We must prepare our students for an economy driven by innovation and knowledge. This like will take the viewer to a resource policy guide for these skills. (Also refer to Iowa Core, 21st Century Essential Skills and Concepts in financial, employability, technology, civic and health literacy).

At-Risk or Alternative Education and Special Education - Eligible individuals may participate in At-Risk or alternative education schools, programs, or services.

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Guidance for Evaluating Alternative Education Programs and Schools

Work has advanced on what types of outcome measures should be targeted and monitored. Alternative educational programs are first and foremost educational programs, so they need to focus on preparing students academically while also meeting the additional needs of their students. Evaluations should include a variety of educational and other outcomes for students (Aron, 2006). Aron and Zweig (2003) note the importance of developing accountability systems as well as investing in better data collection and analysis that would feed into these systems. Part of the challenge is figuring out "how to introduce high academic standards in alternative education systems without sacrificing the elements that make alternative programs successful, and without compromising the integrity of the high standards" (NGA Center for Best Practices, 2001). There are several domains of positive youth development (Hair et al, 2003) outcomes within the educational attainment and cognitive development domain which link directly to the 21st Century Skills of the Iowa Core Curriculum.

NDPC-SD Intervention Framework

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Alternative School Programs Diploma Requirements

Following are guidelines for districts to use for their students who complete a plan of study at an alternative school program, including a community college alternative school program.

  1. Always bear in mind that a student cannot graduate from a program. A student graduates from a high school. The vast majority of Iowa’s districts do not have an alternative high school. They offer an alternative school program, either directly or through a community college or through a consortium of other districts. Students who conclude their studies through an alternative school program receive their diplomas (if earned) from their district of enrollment.
  2. A district may not set different core requirements for graduation for students in an alternative setting or program. For example, if the general graduation requirement includes seven credits for language arts, four for science, four for mathematics, and six
    for social studies, these core requirements must also be met by a student in an alternative setting or program. The flexibility offered in alternative programs may be reflected in scheduling issues and in elective courses, not the core curriculum.
  3. A district must offer just one basic diploma. Think of the basic diploma as the lowest common denominator of achievement (i.e.: It reflects the successful completion of all core requirements.). It is permissible to indicate high achievement on the diploma, such as “with honors.”
  4. It is permissible to indicate on the face of the diploma that the student completed his/her studies via the alternative program. It is not mandatory to do this, since the transcript (which is a more important source of data than the diploma) will reflect all curricular data.
  5. Districts are strongly discouraged from lowering the electives requirements drastically.
  6. Notwithstanding the above paragraphs, if a district has an attendance center that is an alternative school (not just the program), the diploma may come from either the alternative school or the resident district and must state on the face of the diploma that
    the student is awarded the diploma for having met the graduation requirements of “(Name) School.” The alternative school’s graduation requirements may be different from the requirements for graduation from the district’s traditional high school(s), so long as all state graduation requirements are met. When a student enters the alternative school, staff should determine at the earliest practical time which graduation requirements are going to be applied for the student.
  7. Community colleges may serve students from numerous districts. District officials need to work with the college officials to ensure that the college understands the number and type of the district’s core requirements. A community college should not be offering a “one-size-fits-all” alternative school program.
  8. As with students who complete their educational programs via an alternative program, the diploma awarded to a special education student must be similar in all significant respects to the basic diploma awarded by the district. The transcript is the communication means between the district and other entities. Explanations of modifications may be included on the transcript. More information regarding transcript modifications for students with IEPs.
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