5.4 Continuation Schools
In high school it can be easy to see trouble coming. If a student is persistently absent, or starts getting in trouble, or his or her grades plummet, or she becomes pregnant, something needs to change. It makes little sense to proceed as if the status quo is working.
Continuation schools (also known as “alternative schools”) are designed to serve the educational needs of high school aged students who don’t belong on the normal path. They come in many varied forms. There are more than 500 continuation schools in California, serving approximately 4% of the state’s public high school students. This understates their scope of impact. In a review of alternative education options, Jorge Ruiz de Valasco points out that students tend to “pass through” continuation schools, “either on their way to a diploma, or to dropping out of school altogether.”
Continuation schools exist to provide for the needs of “at risk” students.
“Originally designed as part-day placements for students who needed to work part-time, most Continuation schools are now designed to serve students who are over-aged and under-credited. California state school authorities estimate that over 115,000 California high school students will pass through one of the state’s 520 continuation high schools each year. Since 1965, state law has mandated that most school districts enrolling over 100 12th grade students make available a continuation program or school that provides an alternative route to the high school diploma for youth vulnerable to academic failure. The law provides for the creation of continuation schools that provide more intensive services and accelerated credit accrual strategies so that students whose achievement in comprehensive schools has lagged might have a renewed opportunity to complete the required academic courses of instruction to graduate from high school.”
In 2008, an EdSource report separated continuation schools into four categories:
- “Continuation schools, which generally offer programs that help students who are behind in earning credits catch up;
- “Community day schools, which serve students with serious disciplinary orbehavioral issues;
- “County-run community schools, which enroll adjudicated or expelled youth; and
- “Independent study programs, which school districts operate as an educational option.”
The euphemistically-named “community schools” look and act a lot like prisons; the difficult topic of youth incarceration is explored in the primer on Discipline and Justice.
The next primer, however, describes the small but growing role of charter schools in providing public education in California.
[Many thanks to Jorge Ruiz de Valasco for help with this primer. If I've gotten something wrong, it's my fault.]