Where Alternative School Enrollment May Signal Problems

Nearly 2,000 school districts house “alternative” schools intended to serve students with disciplinary or academic problems. Using federal data, we show the relative size of the alternative school population in each district. The color of the bubble reflects several factors that taken together are warning signs that a district’s alternative middle/high schools are of poor quality or that a district may be using alternative schools to improve accountability measures. | Methodology | Related story »

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  • Factors included are growth in enrollment, under-resourcing (such as per pupil staffing and spending in alternative schools versus regular schools), and low graduation rates.


In Michigan, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s home state, charter schools have been responsible in part for a steep rise in the alternative school population.


Florida enrolls nearly 40,000 students in alternative schools. Twenty-one schools throughout the state are run by for-profit charter manager Accelerated Learning Solutions. In the school district that includes Orlando, Florida, which is the nation’s tenth largest, thousands of students leave ALS schools without diplomas but aren’t counted as dropouts.

Alternative School Students Nationwide

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* Alternative school enrollment adjusted to reflect additional reporting by ProPublica.

Source: ProPublica analysis of U.S. Department of Education data is for the 2013-14 school year. Data is self-reported by states and some schools are misidentified as alternative schools. Some schools, such as juvenile justice schools and state-operated schools serving special needs populations, were excluded from the counts of alternative school students. Charter schools were reassigned geographically.