Student Enrollment Surges In Minn. Alternative Schools
Enrollment in Minnesota's public-school-choice programs grew enormously during the 1990s, particularly among students who moved from traditional public schools to alternative schools, according to a new study.
And so far, the state policy of giving parents various options for K-12 schooling mostly appears to be working well, the authors say. The researchers cautioned, though, that the programs and some individual schools need to be more closely monitored.
Some 150,000 of the state's 855,000 K-12 students are taking advantage of Minnesota's choice options, which include early enrollment in higher education, open enrollment across district lines, alternative "second chance" programs, and charter schools.
The most popular option is that of alternative schools that serve at-risk students, which enroll more than 100,000 students.
Overall, the percentage of students participating in the school choice options jumped from 1 percent in the 1988-89 school year to 17 percent in 2000-01. Also, about 30 percent of the state's secondary school students were enrolled in a school choice program in 2000-01.
The study, "What Really Happened? Minnesota's Experience with Statewide Public School Choice Programs," relies on interviews of 50 state-level officials and a review of existing research to make its points. It was conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Minnesota, who said they chose to look at Minnesota because of its pioneering efforts into public school choice.
"We're trying to describe the whole pie of what's going on with all these school choice laws," said William Lowe Boyd, a professor of educational administration at Penn State in University Park, Pa., and one of the report's authors. Joe Nathan, an advocate of public school choice and the director of the Center for School Change, a research group at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Debra Hare, associate director of the center, helped write the report.
Only 10,000 of the 150,000 students in the state's choice programs were attending charters. Mr. Boyd attributed that to the existence of so many other educational options. The study showed that the charter schools serve a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students.
The more than 100,000 students who were enrolled in alternative schools in 2002 was up from 4,000 in 1991.
But the study also found instances of significant problems with some of the alternative schools, ranging from financial mismanagement to lack of academic progress. More research and oversight is needed to determine if students are attending classes and making academic progress at those schools, the report says.
Some districts have not kept adequate data on alternative schools, the report adds. "It appears some schools are having considerable difficulty retaining students," it says.
The report also concludes that the state needs to do more to inform families about school choice options.
Staff Writer Darcia Harris Bowman contributed to this report.
Vol. 21, Issue 40, Page 22