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Alternative Education

Are you looking for alternative education? Traditional public school is not always the best fit for every student. Whether you want a public school, specialty school, military school, or other keep reading to learn what alternative education options are available.

What Is Alternative Education?

Alternative education is a very broad category that refers to every form of school other than state-supported public education. Alternative education choices serve students who cannot attend public school (for example, because they are incarcerated or hospitalized or travel too much, as migrant workers do) as well as those who don't wish to for various reasons, ranging from religious beliefs to philosophy to pedagogy. Charter schools and magnet schools are specialized public schools that provide alternative choices to students who remain in the public school system but often have the opportunity for a special focus. The school might focus on a particular language and culture, a particular subject area, etc.

Alternative education also provides education combined with other services for at risk students, who may need a therapeutic program that doesn't come at the expense of their education and so seek a way to combine the two. Finally, alternative education may combine education with some other skill or competency, such as performance arts or sports, allowing those who excel in one of these areas to continue their specialized study while keeping up with their schooling, so they don't have to choose one or the other.

Expanded Choice

Private schools with specialized curricula (like Montessori or Waldorf or Sudbury schools), schools run by religious organizations (such as Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, or Muslim schools), and home schools are three examples of the types of educational choices available to Americans through alternative education. While school choice often allows students to select between public schools, alternative education offers an extended range of choices, allowing the child who swims or plays hockey to choose the high school with a swim or hockey team instead of the school with no team or no pool/rink, while the student who enters high school going into Algebra 3 can choose the school that has an arrangement with the local college for upper level students to take math courses there.

Alternative Education for Students at Risk

Students who are at risk could have a wide variety of issues. Whether they are dealing with teen pregnancy, substance abuse, mood disorders, learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disabilities, suicidal ideation, poor performance, issues with authority, entitlement, or grief, there are specialized therapeutic programs that combine treatment and/or assistance with educational opportunities. These come in many varieties, including 12-Step programs, Christian programs, wilderness therapy, equine therapy, etc.

Places to seek such programs include:

  • the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) website here:
  • the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national registry here:

Alternative Education in the Homeschool

Whether comprised of a single child, a single family, or a group of related or unrelated families, a homeschool is another form of alternative education. Like private schools, homeschools take many forms and structures and have many different philosophies, pedagogies, and projects. Homeschool can arise as a response to a temporary spur-of-the-moment need (the child is ill) or be a long-cherished plan that implements ways of educating that the parents experienced in their own youth.

Other Types of Alternative Education

America has a tradition of military schools going back to the nineteenth century. Combining a college preparatory education with leadership training in a military-inspired atmosphere, most of these schools feature an ROTC or JROTC program and prepare students for military careers on the one hand, and any type of leadership position, on the other. Some of the military schools have ties to a particular Christian sect: there are Catholic, Episcopalian, and Methodist military schools, for example. While most military schools are for middle and high school students, some exist for elementary school. Some offer only a boarding or day school option, but many have both available.

Going a step beyond the best public high school sports teams, there are schools for students heading toward a college scholarship, Olympic, or professional level of sports capability. Sports include equestrian sports, gymnastics, skiing, and basketball, for example.

The ultimate in alternative education for regular academic programs is study abroad. A college degree in a well-regarded school from another country in which English is not the first language gives the student a wonderful occasion to develop their language skills as well as mastery of content area. If they should happen to go to Cambridge or Oxford, though - even if they don't do a second language - future employers are likely to be impressed with their credentials.