What is an Alternative Learning Center?

Susan Grindstaff

An alternative learning center typically describes a type of school or education program where progressive methods of teaching are adopted. Alternative methods may vary greatly with each program, but in most cases, the methods of teaching are often very different from what students experience in traditional school environments. Some of the more popular alternative methods of teaching involve self-motivation and unrestricted progression. For instance, students may choose what they want to study and are allowed to advance at their own pace, rather than keeping up with a specific curriculum. If they are able to quickly move beyond the learning material, they are allowed to do so, or if they need extra time, that too is arranged.

Magnet schools typically emphasize a focus area such as science or the arts.
Magnet schools typically emphasize a focus area such as science or the arts.

In most cases, an alternative learning center functions as a private school, though experimental programs of this type are sometimes government sponsored. Like most private schools, alternative schools typically charge parents a tuition, and enrollment is sometimes restricted, with admission being based on a wide variety of criteria, including test scores and parental and student interviews. Alternative colleges, high schools, and early education programs often have long waiting lists because there are so few openings available.

Choosing an alternative learning center over traditional schools can be expensive, and in some cases could limit a student when it comes time to enroll in college. Many universities require that students have received credit in certain courses to be eligible for enrollment. If students have attended an alternative learning center with an open curriculum, they may not have taken all the necessary classes needed to attend certain colleges. In this situation, students may have to take additional courses prior to enrollment or may have to attend an alternative study university.

Charter schools in the United States sometimes practice experimental methods in educating students, though the core curriculum is usually the same as other public schools. Charter schools in the US are public schools funded by state and federal government, but are exempt from many of the regulations found in other public school settings. In many ways, these schools are allowed to set their own educational goals and determine their own pathway to achieving those goals. New charter schools are typically given about four to five years to prove they are able to produce federally required academic results.

Parents interested in finding an alternative learning center should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of such a learning environment. If a public alternative school is unavailable, a private center may be the only option. It is a good idea to carefully evaluate each school before making a decision.

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