Last week, the Dallas Morning News reported a sharp rise in the number of charter schools seeking "alternative education" status from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in light of the stiffer expectations of the state's accountability system. "Alternative education" status is usually reserved for schools, both charter and traditional, "dedicated to serving students at risk of dropping out of school." But lax rules allowed many charters to claim the classification and duck the tougher accountability standards to which they would otherwise be subject. In response, TEA quickly (and in our view, rightly) set new rules that require an "alternative education" school, whether traditional or charter, to serve at least 65 percent "at-risk" students to qualify. The state plans gradually to lift that threshold to 75 percent by 2008. The rule change will allow charters that truly serve at-risk students some reasonable flexibility in meeting state requirements, while maintaining accountability among charters as a whole.
"'Alternative' label popular with charters," by Kent Fischer, Dallas Morning News, March 27, 2005