Washington State Alternative Schools and Their Impact on Latino Success

Liz Oberhausen

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I examined Washington alternative schools to see how well they are meeting the needs of their Latino students as compared to conventional schools.  The goals of this inquiry were to find where laws and practices could be changed to better serve Latino students and to see whether conventional schools could benefit from adopting some of the practices utilized by alternative schools.

I began by looking at previous research on the issues Latino students face in conventional schools, alternative schools in general, and what little I could find pertaining to both topics.  I then began my case studies of Washington State generally, and the Walla Walla school system, particularly its Opportunity Program.  I conducted interviews of students, teachers and administrators, personal observations of programs and a Washington Association of Learning Alternatives conference, and data collection and analysis on the effectiveness of Washington alternative schools.

– There are a number of practices, particularly the importance of individual attention and teacher support, which are recommended in the literature for both Latinos in conventional schools, and alternative schools.  Congruent with this literature, I found that the more closely these practices were followed, the more successful the program was in helping Latino and other students.  However, programs often lacked adequate funding to follow these recommendations.
– Although there is definitely room for improvement in Washington alternative schools’ policies and practices, they are addressing the needs of Latino students very well.  Importantly, they are generally more successful in this than conventional schools.

– Both alternative and conventional schools could benefit from more closely following the practices referred to in the findings section, as summarized in the literature review.
– At a policy level, there are a number of actions that OSPI and the legislature could take to enable educators to better serve Latino students.  In particular, OSPI should appoint a full-time staff member dedicated to alternative school issues, and the graduation requirements should be changed to better accommodate the success of all students.  All teachers should also be required to be trained on cultural and economic sensitivity. Finally, a recently eliminated alternative school funding law should be reinstated to facilitate alternative schools in instituting many of the recommendations made above.

Community Partners:  
Cindy Gregoire and Diana Erickson, Bilingual Coordinators for Walla Walla Public Schools.


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