What Are Alternative Schools: A Detailed Guide

Education is the basis for change and development for individuals and society alike. But what do you do when your child cannot seem to comprehend what the teacher teaches or has a hard time performing well in examinations and assessments? The answer may be enrolling the child into an alternative school.

The fact remains that every child cannot learn equally through the same methodology. This is not because they are not smart, rather they are gifted in some other areas while some have learning disabilities. Hence, assessing every student based on the traditional schooling approach seems biased.

Also, some children may be defiant due to some experiences that have impacted their psychology or they may be facing some complications medically.

In order to cater to these ones, schools that use non-traditional public and private educational approaches were propounded by different individuals which are now categorized as alternative schools’ options for parents and students.

This article explores what alternative schools are, their types, their benefits schools, and how to choose the right alternative school. Kindly read along. 

What Do Alternative Schools Mean?

Originally, alternative schools were established to cater to students who couldn’t excel in traditional public-school settings despite all efforts.

Today, alternative schools incorporate a variety of schools with objectives such as:

  • Catering to students with behavioral challenges
  • Training students with special talents or academic interest
  • Caring for children with certain learning disabilities or disorder
  • Dealing with at-risk students
  • Dealing with students who have been incarcerated, expelled or suspended
  • Training students with complex medical cases

The rise of alternative schools dates as far back as the 1830s when Bronson Alcott alongside some leaders of the Transcendentalist movement founded the Temple School.

After which Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and educator established the Montessori school in 1900, an educational method that builds on the way children learn naturally. As well as, the opening of the magnet school in 1960.

Today different schools around the United States have their own different definitions of what alternative schools are.

Types of Alternative School

Alternative schools may be privately or publicly run. Some alternative schools include:

1. Charter schools

A charter school is a school that is publicly funded and run independently by an individual or group of individuals.

Although these schools get funds from the government or institutions whose objective is to aid education, they maintain their independent nature and do not follow the rules that apply to state-owned or federal schools.

The objective of charter schools is to allow all children to gain access to education, particularly the less privileged. Hence, it is free for all.

Furthermore, they have the freedom of setting their curriculum based on students’ needs. So, teachers engage all forms of learning materials, procedures, and styles in teaching. This is in order to teach and equip every student such that they understand perfectly.

2. Parochial Schools

These are schools that get support from a particular church or parish. Here they teach the same curriculum as with public schools but include strong religious studies.

Parochial schools are great for children with an inclination towards religious careers or priesthood. Furthermore, the parish funds the school and gives children who are members of the parish access to attend.

3. Boarding schools

These are schools with residential houses where students live during the academic session. They are basically schools away from home. Those who attend boarding schools are called borders.

Furthermore, they may be privately or publicly owned. Students of a boarding school co-exist, eat, and sleep together in a dormitory. Dorm parents or house masters monitor the activities of students in the dormitories.

Also, teachers are assigned to some set of students to act as quasi-parents. As quasi-parents, their duties include monitoring the activities of the student, ensuring their comfort, and seeing to the student’s complaint.

Boarding houses may be a single-gender that is male or female-only schools, or co-ed that is a combination of male and female. In addition, there are different types of boarding schools which include:

  • College prep boarding schools
  • Military schools
  • Therapeutic boarding schools
  • Religious boarding schools, etc.

The main purpose of a boarding school is to train a child to be independent and responsible. College prep majorly prepares students for college by introducing an advanced-level curriculum.

Therapeutic boarding school on the other hand helps to help defiant students or those with psychological issues. For instance, students who are rape victims, victims of substance abuse, history of running away, violence, etc.

4. Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are schools that exist and operate within a public school in a district. They are free of charge. Also, they focus on specific areas of interest or education.

These areas could be STEM, performing arts, music, language, maths, engineering, leadership, etc. These schools apply hands-on approaches to teaching students.

Although they use a regular curriculum like traditional schools, they personalize the learning experience for students by allowing students to focus on their areas of interest.

Furthermore, magnet schools encourage diversified learning by bringing together children from different districts who share common interests. This way learning is more impactive and unified. It also helped to solve the problem of racism and better academic excellence and experiences.

Lastly, the number of students in magnet schools is not as much as in traditional settings because of the limit placed on students per class. This helped to foster teaching and learning and improve teacher-to-student relationships.

5. Vocational training

This is a specialized form of learning that involves hands-on training and classroom instructions. It helps individuals to gain technical skills or abilities usually to prepare them for a job.

6. Independent or virtual study programs

These are in the form of distance learning for students who need to study from home or those whose parents want to study from home. Such students may be disabled, have some learning disabilities, or have medical challenges.

As such, these programs are personalized to cater to their needs. Some of these programs are designed with the help of therapists or specialists who understand how to deal with and teach these kinds of children.

7. Special needs day school

These are schools focused on helping children with learning disabilities such as ADD, ADHD, or other behavioral challenges.

As such, their lessons and curriculum incorporate some therapeutic instructions, special counseling, speech therapy, and adaptive physical activities. All this is to aid their learning regardless of their disabilities.

Benefits of Alternative Schools

1. More comprehensive assessment method

Regular schools use letter grades and GPAs. The con of this is that it is not a comprehensive and objective way of assessing students. This is because schools and teachers differ. As such, students’ educational experience is not the same.

For instance, if two students who attend different schools and are different both have a B in mathematics, they are not likely to score the same mark or perform at the same level if they are given an external exam that contains the same set of questions.

This proves that letter grades do not do justice to assessing students’ performance

In contrast, alternative school teachers write a short narrative assessment on the student’s skills and comprehension of lesson contents.

They may also employ the use of scale from deficiency to mastery on subjects such as writing, research, presentation, and study habits. This serves as a deeper, more informative, and more comprehensive way to assess individual students’ competency.

2. Cater to different types of students

The major benefit of alternative schools is that they are alternatives for every type of student.

They address the social, emotional, and physical attributes of an individual. Whereas traditional schools focus on limited aspects that concern the students.

Moreso, some students do not have great academic abilities, due to learning disabilities that do not make them retain what they learn, or lack interest in school activities.

Alternative schools provide teaching methodologies that cater to them and help them learn in their own way.

3. Smaller class sizes

Alternative schools unlike traditional schools have a limit to students who can be in a class. This ensures that each student gets personalized teaching and attention from the teacher. Also, it improves the relationship between students and teachers.

4. Diversity

Some alternative schools allow students from different districts to mix together. This way students can get to accept and tolerate individuals from different cultures or races thereby reducing racism.

Also, students can learn from each other become globally relevant, and gain richer educational experience.

5. Student Support and Guidance

For students who need more support and guidance, alternative schools are best for them. From emotional, to social, to academic support, alternative schools are always able to help.

Also, some alternative schools, particularly those that deal with students with behavioral issues or learning disabilities, conduct free therapeutic meetings with parents to train them on how to handle their children and be supportive.

6. Improves academic performance

Because alternative schools cater to each student individually, students experience greater academic performance. Furthermore, teachers employ a vast teaching approach and methodology in a bid to help each student become the best of themselves.

7. Provision for students with special abilities

Some students have talents in music, science, technology, and arts, among others. And traditional schools are not able to harness these potentials.

On the other hand, some alternative schools are established for this purpose. For instance, a magnet school is a school for children along these lines.

By using a curriculum that addresses these special talents alongside the traditional curriculum, students become more interested in learning. Also, they get to improve on their talents which may later become useful for them and society at large in the future.

How To Choose The Right Alternative School

As a parent or student considering alternative schooling, it is crucial that you choose rightly. This is because attending a school that isn’t a good fit for you may not give you a better result than before.

Here is a list of steps to follow before picking an alternative school to attend:

1. Define the problem with your current school

The first step is to ask yourself what the problem really is. Sometimes the problem may not be the school, it may be you. Also, it may be that the school is not a perfect match for you.

When you are sure what the problems are, try to see if you can get solutions to these problems within the school.

For example, the problem may be the teacher teaching you a particular subject, or acts of bullying from colleagues. In situations like this parents should make sure to approach the school and seek redress.

However, if the problems are more personal, you may proceed with your quest for an alternative school.

2. Highlight all the requirements you want in your new school

You should be thorough with all the qualities that you want in your new school. For instance, if you need a school that caters to your musical talents, you should list it as a criterion. This would help you in your search.

3. Research what is required to get into your new school

Getting admission into alternative schools may sometimes be difficult, hence, it is important that you make careful research into what are the necessary requirements to get accepted into the school of your choice.


Why are alternative schools bad?

The problem with alternative schools is that they may become a dumping ground for unserious students.

Are alternative schools good?

Yes. Alternative schools cater to students who cannot excel in traditional school settings. Also, they help to deal with students with behavioral challenges or learning disabilities.

Why should students enroll in an alternative school?

Those who enroll in an alternative school are students experiencing difficulties with learning in traditional classrooms.


Alternative schools bring a lot of benefits to education. Rather than give up on students who seem defiant, unintelligent, or those with learning disabilities, alternative schools employ methods that can help these ones learn in their own way.

Furthermore, some of these schools develop individuals with exceptional talents and cater to students’ emotional, social, and mental needs.

Also, the government should make sure to check and balance the schools regularly, so that they do not become a dumping ground for unwanted students.

Lastly, you can check the article on the type of learners to learn about the best ways to teach each student.

I hope this post helped.

Thanks for reading.