AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Characteristics of Quality Alternative Placements

Alternative placements should be high-quality programs.

Critics charge that alternative placements for students with behavior problems are dumping grounds where students are warehoused. We have seen, however, that alternative programs can provide high-quality education and interventions to help these students get a new start in life and become productive citizens. Alternatives must be planned carefully and meet stringent criteria to be effective. The characteristics listed below are essential for quality alternative placement programs.

Characteristics of Quality Alternative Placements


  • To support the district instructional program by relieving classrooms of dangerous and chronically disruptive students.
  • To help dangerous and chronically disruptive students take responsibility for their own lives and actions and meet high academic and behavioral standards.
  • To help dangerous and chronically disruptive students improve their behavior so that they may be returned safely to mainstream settings as quickly as possible.


  • A highly qualified, well trained administration and staff who choose to teach in alternative programs and who are present in sufficient numbers to guarantee a strong, positive adult presence.
  • Adults who balance constant vigilance and consistent, firm enforcement of school rules with caring, respectful, consistent support for students.

Structure of Program

  • A strong, well-defined, universally understood and consistently enforced discipline code, ensuring that students understand what is expected of them, the consequences for noncompliance and how and by whom their performance will be judged.
  • Emphasis on intensive instruction in academic content to assist students in meeting high academic standards, particularly students who have fallen behind.
  • Effective and frequent communication among students, families, teachers and other school staff, most especially with the teachers who send students to the alternative setting and with those to whom they will return.
  • A well-structured and sufficiently long intake and orientation process that fully prepares students and parents to participate successfully in the program.
  • Small class sizes in order to closely monitor academic performance and behavior.
  • Intensive instruction in social skills, problem solving, anger management and conflict resolution to teach students how to have successful interactions with peers, authority figures and the general public.
  • Intensive shaping and management of behavior based on well-researched, proven practices.
  • A transitional program that prepares students to return to the mainstream successfully.
  • Extensive opportunities for research-based professional development in the subject areas, skills and insights needed to handle troubled youth.
  • Strong cooperative relationships with community-based social service, juvenile justice and health/mental health agencies and a sharing of responsibilities with those agencies for providing services to the students.
  • Accountability measures that indicate how well the program is succeeding in its mission.