Archived: Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Alternative Education Programs for Expelled Students Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: An Action Guide - September 1996

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Alternative Education Programs for Expelled Students

A defining feature of life in America's schools today is the increasing incidence of violence. Nearly 3 million crimes take place in or near schools annually--one every 6 seconds of the school day.1 These increases are occurring nationwide. Eighty-two percent of school districts surveyed by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) reported increasing violence within their schools during the past 5 years. Increasingly, incidents of violence reported in schools involve deadly weapons. More than 60 percent of school districts have reported weapon violations among their students.2

One prominent legislative and policy measure to ensure a safe school environment has been to require removal of disruptive and dangerous students. Typically this is accomplished through expulsions and long-term suspensions. For example, the Federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 requires a minimum 1-year expulsion for any student found to have carried a firearm on school grounds (See Preventing Juvenile Gun Violence in Schools.).

School districts across the country report experiencing significant increases in both the number of students expelled and the length of time they are excluded from their schools. The consensus among educators and others concerned with at-risk youth is that it is vital for expelled students to receive educational counseling or other services to help modify their behavior and possibly other support services while they are away from their regular school. Without such services, students generally return to school no better disciplined and no better able to manage their anger or peaceably resolve disputes. They will also have fallen behind in their education, and any underlying causes of their violent behavior may be unresolved. Research has shown a link between suspension/expulsion and later dropping out of school, with resulting personal and social costs.

One reservation about providing services to expelled students has been the cost. However, data show it is less costly to address the problem behavior and its underlying causes as quickly as possible than to wait until the student becomes involved with the criminal justice or welfare systems later in life. The American Federation of Teachers has estimated that "for the [$1,750] additional dollars spent on each [disruptive] student attending an alternative school, the public annually gains $14,000 in student learning time that would have been lost, $2,800 in reduced grade repetition costs, $1,750 in reduced welfare costs, and $1,500 in reduced prison costs."3 This is a total savings of $18,300 per student.

Promising Practices

School systems across the country are turning to alternative education programs to deliver educational and other services to expelled students. Some school systems are modifying existing programs to accommodate the larger numbers of students expelled for disruptive behaviors, while others are creating new programs, often in collaboration with social agencies or nonprofit service organizations.

he programs typically differ from the expelled students' regular schools in these dimensions: the ratio of students to teachers, the way academic subject matter is presented, the setting of the program, the linkage of the school to the community or workplaces, the emphasis on behavior modification, the emphasis on counseling for conflict resolution and anger management, and the availability of comprehensive support services. Programs have been created for students as young as elementary age. Some seek to prepare students to return to their regular schools, and others prepare students to graduate from high school and enter the workforce or postsecondary education directly from the alternative program.

Components of Effective Alternative Education Programs

The components of effective alternative programs are:

Examples of Alternative Education Programs

The following programs provide some examples of the varied alternative education programs that have been created for expelled students.

City-As-School Program, Buffalo, New York

The City-As-School (CAS) program in Buffalo, New York, places students as interns in dozens of sites across the city. Students earn academic credits for the work they perform--an English credit for work involving the theater, a newspaper, or other type of communication; a social studies credit for work at the local courts or community action agency. Students rotate through three or four internships each semester, becoming familiar with a variety of work environments and being exposed to a variety of role models. Throughout the program, each student also works on his or her Learning Experience Activity Packet (LEAP), a set of goals and activities customized for each student and each internship. The LEAP includes weekly assignments as well as a semester-long final product. The student's progress is monitored by his onsite supervisors and program teachers. Students attend weekly seminars at CAS offices. The program elected to locate its offices on a college campus to expose the students to the possibilities of postsecondary education.

The CAS program has developed extensive support within the community. Because many businesses and agencies have volunteered to sponsor interns, the program has been able to serve more students. Program staff feel the experience produces major changes in the students. The students become more motivated and their negative behaviors are reduced. Sixty-five percent of the students are able to maintain 100 percent attendance for as long as 2 years, complete all their internships, and earn their high school diplomas. The staff point out that this graduation rate is considerably higher than that of comparable students who remain in the regular school program.

Community Academy, Boston, Massachusetts

The Community Academy (CA) is located in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. CA is designed to provide students with a safe and challenging academic learning environment in order to help them become successful and productive citizens. CA is housed in leased space in the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club. In working with students, CA uses a cognitive approach that focuses on modifying inappropriate behavior and enhancing academic potential. CA emphasizes small class size, low student-teacher ratios, and parental involvement. In addition to academic instruction, the program provides a vocational component and an advanced placement program, and students are eligible to earn dual enrollment credits at area colleges and universities. CA has also established community partnerships with several area businesses, civic organizations, and social service agencies for providing services to students.

The academic component of the program assigns students to small classes to work intensively with highly skilled and experienced teachers on core academic subjects. Teaching is individualized to each student's abilities and learning style, with the goal of bringing the student up to grade-level performance. Students are required to participate in a counseling program conducted by the program's staff psychologist that focuses on personal growth and development. The psychologist is also available to meet with students individually on an as-needed basis. However, students who may need intensive counseling are referred to area community health centers. Additionally, assessments, counseling, and drug awareness education are provided by the substance abuse clinicians. These staff meet with students on both an individual and group basis, but those students needing intensive/long-term treatment are also referred to the local community health center. Students are encouraged to participate in community service activities, work with a mentor, complete job-training classes, and explore advanced academic course work and post-secondary education.

Staff closely monitor student progress. Ratings for each student are based upon attendance, academic performance, disciplinary incidents, and clinical assessments. Although the program was designed under the assumption that the average student would require 2 years of service before returning to the regular school, nearly 45 percent are judged ready after 1 year. Fewer than 15 percent of students entering the program are unable to complete it. More than 25 percent are able to complete some college-level work before leaving the CA program.

Borough Academies, New York, New York

The Borough Academies, located in New York City, serve students from the entire metropolitan area. The Borough Academies are designed primarily to help students develop positive behavior skills and secondarily to prepare students for entrance into college or a job. Students are provided with the opportunity to earn credits through vocational internships with employers throughout New York City. The key concept at the Borough Academies is behavior change through positive reinforcement and flexibility. Faculty are instructed to always use positive incentives and to present students with attainable goals. Students are told only what they can do, not what they cannot. The Borough Academies encourage flexibility not only from students but also from faculty and administrators. The program's three campuses are located in nontraditional settings--offices or apartment buildings.

The program provides students with a combination of academic and behavior management skills. The model initially focuses on teaching students how to manage their behavior positively. The principal feels that once students are able to manage their behavior they will be better prepared to reach their potential both as students and as citizens in the workplace. Students earn credits toward a New York City High School degree through the three components of the program: academic, guidance, and internship/vocational. Students choose their schedule each day under a program called "free options" whereby they can change the set of classes they attend every day. Stu-dents can earn credits as quickly as they want to and work at their own pace.

Since the inception of the Borough Academies, two classes have graduated. The Academies have an 86-percent graduation rate, and the majority of the students have gone on to college.


Alternative Schools for Disruptive Youth. National School Safety Center (NSSC) Resource Paper, 1987. This research paper presents background information on reasons some youth are disruptive, approaches to alternative education, and alternative schools as a way to provide services to suspended or expelled students.

Joy G. Dryfoos, Adolescents at Risk: Prevalence and Prevention, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Adolescents at Risk provides an overview of prevention programs, practices, and components that appear critical to success regardless of the high-risk behavior the program strives to prevent.

Alternative Schools for Disruptive Youth, School Safety, NSSC (winter 1991), pp. 8-11.

School Safety, NSSC (winter 1995). This special issue is devoted entirely to alternative education and provides several articles on a range of issues including early identification of problems, State initiatives, adult mentoring, and apprenticeship learning.

More information is available from:

Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program
U.S. Department of Education
600 Independence Avenue, SW.
Washington, DC 20202-6123

National School Safety Center
4165 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Suite 290
Westlake Village, California 91362

National School Boards Association
1680 Duke Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

National Association of State Boards of Education
1012 Cameron Street
Alexandria, Virginia, 22314


  1. National School Safety Center. 1993 (September). "School Safety Update." National School Safety Center News Service, p.1.

  2. National School Boards Association, 1993. "Violence in the Schools: How America's School Boards Are Safeguarding Our Children." Alexandria, Virginia.

  3. "Tiny Knife Sets Off Big Debate Over Right To Attend School." Education Daily 28, August 8, 1995 (166): 1-3.

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