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Support for Positive Student Behavior

Alternative Educational Strategies Comprehensive School-Based Mental Health ServicesCoordinated Medical Interventions

Programs and Strategies for Positive Behavior:
Intensive Intervention Programs & Strategies:

Alternative Educational Strategies

Student Population Served
Alternative education programs have been used for students from first grade through twelfth grade.

Strategy Description
Alternative education programs are designed to temporarily serve students who chronically violate school rules or display severe behavior problems. These programs serve as an alternative to homebound placements resulting from suspension or expulsion from the school system. For students in special education who have serious discipline problems, amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 1997 have stimulated interest in the design of interim alternative educational programs.

Alternative educational programs vary in teacher-to-student ratio, program setting, emphasis on behavior modification, linkage of school to community or workplace, the way academic subject matter is presented, the emphasis on counseling for conflict resolution and anger management, and the availability of comprehensive support services. Programs have been created for students as young as elementary age. Some seek to prepare students to return to their regular schools; others prepare students to graduate from high school and enter the workforce or postsecondary education directly from the alternative program. However, effective alternative educational programs have a number of traits in common. They place students in a structured academic setting for a limited period of time, and help them build skills to succeed in the general education setting. The value of alternative programs are in the opportunity they provide to support students, develop necessary skills, and temporarily relieve pressure on teachers who have been unsuccessful in dealing with challenging students. Alternative programs hold little value when they are intended as a punitive measure and a "dumping ground" for certain students.

Effective, research-based alternative education strategies include the following:

  • Low ratio of students to teachers. This allows for high quality instruction, more personal time for each student, and a greater chance of student behavioral gains.
  • Highly structured classroom. Within this structure, self-management skills are taught, and high rates of positive reinforcement are used. This will lead to more time engaged in academic tasks and will teach them the self-monitoring skills they will need to succeed in less restrictive settings.
  • Positive rather than punitive emphasis in behavior management. A positive emphasis rewards acceptable behavior and compliance, and directly reinforces classroom rules that have been taught.
  • Adult mentors. An adult mentor that takes a special interest in a student; tracks the student's behavior, attendance, attitude and grades, and uses positive reinforcement with the student can make a significant difference in both the academic and the personal life of a student with behavioral problems.
  • Individualized behavioral interventions based on a functional behavioral assessment. A complete functional behavioral assessment identifies causes of the behavior, factors maintaining the behavior, and positive behaviors to replace the problem ones. Conducting an FBA may be a crucial first step in the process of implementing positive, effective behavioral change.
  • Social skills instruction. This instruction can include problem solving, conflict resolution, anger management, and empathy training.
  • High-quality academic instruction. Instruction that is direct and includes learning strategies; small, interactive groups; and directed responses and questioning of students keeps them engaged and focused on the material at hand. Difficulty of instruction must also be controlled for.
  • Involving parents. Involving parents entails frequent communication between the home and the school; parent education programs, provided either at school or in the community, and other activities designed to enfranchise parents.
  • Reintegration Plan. Designing interventions to ensure that students can effectively transition back to his/her "regular" classroom is critical. Prior to reintegration, expectations, rules, and procedures common in the student's regular classroom should be implemented in the alternative environment. Behavioral interventions and external reinforcement should be reduced over time to normal classroom levels so that the student gradually comes to perceive it as the norm. Receiving teachers should be involved in planning the transition.

Evidence of Effectiveness
Examples of the effectiveness of alternative education programs include the following:

  • The American Federation of Teachers has estimated that "for the [$1,750] additional spent on every disruptive student attending an alternative school, the public gains $14,000 in student learning time that would have been lost, $2,800 in reduced grade repetition costs, $1,750 in reduced welfare costs, and $1,500 in reduced prison costs (Education Daily, 1995). This is a total savings of $18,300 per student.
  • A 1996 study carried out by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center (OTAC) reported that Oklahoma students enrolled in state-sponsored alternative programs had generally improved their grade-point averages while lowering their rate of failure, truancy, and discipline referrals. In addition, 95% of seniors who had entered a program in September had either graduated or received a GED.
  • Shallcross, a remedial discipline school in Philadelphia founded in 1994, includes students aged 11 - 21 in grades 6 - 12. Most students referred to Shallcross - for weapons charges, assaults, or chronic behavioral problems - have already been in trouble many times. However, with the program's combination academic-discipline approach, Shallcross has todate proven successful. It boasts a 65 to 70 percent success rate, meaning that students and their families have met all their goals.

References & Additional Resources
American Federation of Teachers. (1997). Alternative placement programs: Criteria for effective alternative placement programs for violent and chronically disruptive students. Washington, DC: Author.

Guerin, G., & Denti, L. (1999). Alternative education support for youth at-risk. The Clearing House, 73(2), 76.

Nichols, J.D., & Utesch, W.E. (1998). An alternative learning program: Effects on student motivation and self-esteem. The Journal of Educational Research, 91(5), 272-279.

Raywid, M.A. (1998). Small schools: A reform that works. Educational Leadership, 55(4), 34-39.

Tiny knife sets off big debate over right to attend school. (1995, August 8). Education Daily, 166, 1-3.

Tobin, T., & Sprague, J. (2000). Alternative education strategies: Reducing violence in school and community. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8(3), 177-186.

U.S. Department of Education. (1994). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities: Sixteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author. Available: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/OSEP/#IDEA%20'97

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