Improving Alternative Education in Pennsylvania

Emerging Leader Fellow: Marnie Kaplan, 2012-2013

About 15 years ago, Pennsylvania established a system of Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) for children who display behavior problems in school. The program has grown to the extent that, if all of the children in alternative schools belonged to one school district, the district would be the third largest in the Commonwealth. In a report on the legal aspects of alternative education, the Education Law Center (ELC) found that Pennsylvania has done little to ensure that alternative schools provide quality instruction. Instead, these schools have been allowed to operate almost completely "beneath the radar screen." The majority are unmonitored and unaccountable to the public. It also appears that children of color and children with disabilities are significantly overrepresented in some alternative education programs. Just two years ago, in response to pressure from ELC, the State began to collect school-by-school data on demographics, services, and achievement in alternative schools.

For years, ELC has heard directly from families, juvenile probation officers, child welfare case workers, and other individuals concerned that too many AEDY programs are "dumping grounds" for students that school districts have found too difficult to teach in mainstream educational settings. However, ELC has not had the capacity to collect and analyze all these stories in any organized way until now.

Marnie Kaplan will a) review and analyze the AEDY data from the PA Department of Education (PDE); b) supplement the data through contacts with alternative education providers, students, families, and professionals (probation officers, advocates, and others); c) visit selected alternative education programs; d) synthesize findings for ELC and project stakeholders; and d) draft policy and practice recommendations addressing needed improvements in AEDY programs to local school districts, the PDE and the General Assembly, as well as inform possible legal action.