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An alternative school, in the United States and some other parts of the world, is an institution which provides alternative education. It is an educational establishment with a curriculum and methods that are nontraditional. These schools have a special curriculum offering a more flexible program of study than a traditional school.
A wide range of philosophies and teaching methods are offered by alternative schools; some have strong political, scholarly, or philosophical orientations, while others are more ad hoc assemblies of teachers and students dissatisfied with some aspect of mainstream or traditional education.
In the United Kingdom, 'alternative school' refers to a school that provides a learner centered informal education as an alternative to the regimen of traditional education in the United Kingdom. There's a long tradition of such schools in the United Kingdom, going back to Summerhill, whose founder, A. S. Neill, greatly influenced the spread of similar democratic type schools such as the famous Dartington Hall School, and Kilquhanity School, both now closed. Currently there are two democratic primary schools, Park School and Small Acres, and two democratic secondary schools, Summerhill and Sands School. There are also a range of schools based on the ideas of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner.
In the United States, there has been tremendous growth in the number of alternative schools in operation since the 1970s, when relatively few existed. Some alternative schools are for students of all academic levels and abilities who are better served by a non-traditional program. Others are specifically intended for students with special educational needs, address social problems that affect students, such as teenage parenthood or homelessness, or accommodate students who are considered at risk of failing academically.
In Canada, local school boards choose whether or not they wish to have alternative schools and how they are operated. The alternative schools may include multi-age groupings, integrated curriculum or holistic learning, parental involvement, and descriptive reports rather than grades. Some school systems provide alternative education streams within the state schools.
In Canada, schools for children who are having difficulty in a traditional secondary school setting are known as alternate schools.
Germany has over 200 Waldorf schools, including the first such school in the world (founded 1919), and a large number of Montessori schools. Each of these has its own national association, whereas most other alternative schools are organized in the National Association of Independent Alternative Schools (). Funding for private schools in Germany differs from Bundesland to Bundesland.
Full public funding is given to laboratory schools researching school concepts for public education. The Laborschule Bielefeld had a great influence on many alternative schools, including the renewal of the democratic school concept.
In South Korea, alternative schools serve three big groups of youth in South Korea. The first group is students who could not succeed in formative Korean education. Many of these schools serve students who dropped out during their earlier school years, either voluntarily or by disciplinary action. The second group is young immigrants. As population of immigrants from Southeast Asia and North Korea is increasing, several educators started to see the necessity of the adaptive education, specially designed for these young immigrants. Because South Korea has been a monoethnic society throughout its history, there is not enough system and awareness to protect these students from bullying, social isolation, or academic failure.
For instance, the drop-out rate for North Korean immigrant students is ten times higher than that students from South Korean students because their major challenge is initially to adapt Korean society, not to get a higher test score. The other group is students who choose an alternative education because of its philosophy. Korean education, as in many other Asian countries, is based on testing and memorizing. Some students and parents believe this kind of education cannot nurture a student thoroughly and choose to go to an alternative school, that suggests a different way to learn for students. These schools usually stress the importance of interaction between other people and nature over written test results.
The major struggle in alternative schools in South Korea are recognition, lack of financial support, and quality gap between alternative schools. Although South Korean public's recognition to alternative education has deliberately changed, the progressive education still is not widely accepted. To enter a college, regular education is often preferred because of the nation's rigid educational taste on test result and record. For the same reason, South Korean government is not actively supporting alternative schools financially.
Hence, many alternative schools are at risk of bankruptcy, especially the schools that do not or cannot collect tuition from their students. Most Southeast Asian and North Korean immigrant families are financially in need, so they need assist from government's welfare system for their everyday life. It is clear that affording private education is a mere fantasy for these families. That phenomenon, at last, causes a gap among alternative schools themselves. Some schools are richly supported by upper-class parents and provide variety of in-school and after-school programs, and others rarely have resource to build few academic and extracurricular programs as such.
- Anarchistic free school
- Continuation high school
- Democratic school
- Gifted education
- Montessori school
- Public alternative school
- Reform school
- Special education
- Sudbury school
- Virtual school
- Waldorf school
- Definition of alternative school, accessed August 9, 2007. Archived 2009-10-31.
- Definition of alternative school, accessed August 9, 2007.
- "alternative schooling". A Dictionary of Education. Ed. Elizabeth Wallace. Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-921207-1
- "Alternative school set to reopen", . BBC News. 23 March 2009.
- Democratic Education UK Directory http://www.democraticeducation.co.uk/index.php/directory/list-view?sid=56:schools_start_ups
- We’ll Fund Montessori And Steiner Schools, Say Tories Daily Express July 9, 2009
- Alternative Schools Adapt, by Fannie Weinstein. The New York Times, June 8, 1986, section A page 14.
- Brenda Edgerton Conley (2002). "6". Sudbury Schools, Democratic Schools, Montessori Schools, and Waldorf Schools. id=N7zxYYpyLLcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Alternative+schools#v=onepage&q&f=false Alternative Schools: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-440-4. Retrieved August 5, 2009.
- Claire V. Korn, Alternative American Schools: Ideals in Action (Ithaca: SUNY Press, 1991).