National Center for Youth Law


Alternative Education Settings in California

California students who experience the “school to prison pipeline” often find themselves in alternative education settings, such as continuation high schools, community day schools, county-run community schools, juvenile detention schools, and independent study programs.

While alternative education settings are intended to provide additional educational options for students who face challenges in a traditional school, there are several major concerns regarding alternative education in California. For example: students may be transferred without the required opportunities to object to the new school; students may never have a real chance to return back to their traditional schools; the curriculum and instruction in such schools can be far below the standards of traditional schools; alternative settings may rely too heavily on education technology versus in-person instruction; such settings may have a high level of law enforcement presence, and conversely, too few counselors and certificated teachers; and the statewide accountability system may not operate in a way that actually holds alternative education settings to a meaningful standard.

Recent evidence indicates that alternative education students are disproportionately students of color. Additionally, the rate of students in foster care and students with disabilities is significantly higher in alternative education settings than in traditional school settings.

NCYL’s campaign for alternative education equity critically examines the pathway to alternative education and the experience of students in alternative education settings. NCYL aims to reduce the number of students inappropriately pushed into alternative education settings, ensure students in alternative education settings have access to qualified teachers and a robust curriculum, and collaborate with community organizations and families to hold school districts, alternative schools and other stakeholders accountable for students’ outcomes, such as graduation and readiness for college or a career.

NEW! Practical tools to support California Students Impacted by Alternative Education