By Madelyn Colon
They don’t always agree, there is, of course, the occasional turf war, personality issues, and the expected political power plays, but when it comes to our kids, the state’s Democratic Latino legislators aren’t playing politics. They’ve united on HB 6201, aimed at uncovering the mystery of the “off the radar” alternative schools in our state.
There are at least 10 of these schools; no, maybe it’s 50 of them, educating our Latino youth. Nobody really seems to know how many exist. Worse yet, nor do they know what curriculum they offer and how the students in them are faring.
That’s because the Connecticut Department of Education does not keep track of alternative schools. Basic reporting on information on the number of students that actually attend them, and measurement tools such as Strategic School Profiles that track student population, demographics, student performance, drop-out rates and student services provided, is not maintained for alternative schools.
Currently, if a school district describes the alternative school as a “program” and not a “school,” it is not obligated to give the state any information. Apparently local school districts have taken advantage of that loophole.
Unbelievable as this may sound in this data driven age, legislators say they can’t even find out what kind of resources the state is providing to students, if any, in alternative schools for textbooks, computers, and decent classrooms. It is even unclear to them how these schools are funded unless they are an extension of a district school.
Any school district in the state can establish an alternative school to provide public education to high school students who are not functioning in a traditional classroom. State law also gives districts the authority to reassign students to alternative high schools, and the process usually involves a final ultimatum by a school administrator to the student that an alternative school is the last best option for a student to graduate.
Students “transferred out” to alternative schools are not succeeding in the traditional school environment. They may have behavioral problems, and many come from troubled homes. As long-term academic underachievers, they are at the very back of the education bus. When they go to school, they are often pegged as “troublemakers” or problem kids.
Alternative schools typically have high Latino student populations. Robert Cotto Jr., senior policy fellow for K-12 Education at CT Voices for Children, says, “We know that Latino, Black, and low-income children are more likely to leave or be ‘pushed out’ of high school before they graduate, and that these alternative schools serve a disproportionate number of them.”
Are Latino kids in alternative schools learning anything there? And more importantly, are they attending these schools voluntarily?