Data Sources

Jobs for the Future’s comprehensive 50-state scan analyzes active legislative and regulatory policies that guide states’ overall approach to alternative education. The policy scan examines all existing policies in each state related to alternative education programming, as well as legislative changes to policy between 2001 and 2009.

The scan tapped databases maintained by the National Council of State Legislatures and the Education Commission of the States, supplemented by other sources as needed. Existing state-level alternative education policies were identified primarily through information provided by state education agencies and offices or other public agencies responsible for aspects of alternative education. Researchers also consulted state-level annual reports, NCLB accountability workbooks, state education agency Web sites, and other online resources.

Not all states make information related to alternative education readily available to the general public. Some states do not have specific offices responsible for alternative education; others provide the public with very little information regarding alternative education options. Where necessary, JFF researchers used data from third-party entities (i.e., nonprofits; district, county, or regional offices of education) or program- or school-based sources.

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Our inquiry commenced with a set of research questions reflective of current research and expert thinking in the field on what makes comprehensive dual enrollment policy. We set out to understand and report on the following policies:

  • Eligibility and Access: To what extent are states establishing broad eligibility requirements to permit students to take college-level courses in individual subject ateas for which they are prepared, based on multiple measures of readiness in those areas?
  • Quality Assurance: Are states ensuring that course content, student assessments, and instructor qualifications meet college standards?
  • Academic and Social Supports:
  • Sustainable Funding and Finance: Are state funding mechanisms desgined so that students are able to complete college courses no cost to families and no financial harm to secondary and postseconary partners?
  • Data Systems: Do states collect data on low-incoe students participation in dual erollment and set goals for increasing participation on an annual basis?
  • System of Accountability and Alignment:

Based on our initial analysis, we identified six model policy elements that constitute a framework for creating a robust and comprehensive statewide environment to implement, expand and sustain dual enrollment.

The description and analysis of state alternative education laws and rules are presented through the lens of these seven policy elements. JFF developed a set of criteria for assessing each element and then organized the presentation of each state’s policy set according to these indicators. In many cases, states have put in place some policies in these areas, but policies are not as comprehensive or coherent as those outlined in JFF”s proposed model policy set. Because existing policies in many states can serve as a springboard to further policymaking by legislatures or executive agencies, the scan distinguishes between states that have “met” the criteria for recommended policies and those that have “partially met” the criteria. (In two of the policy elements—eligibility and support for innovation—states are assessed only in terms of having met the criteria or not, since these categories are more binary: either a state has the policy or it does not.) State policies labeled "exemplary" come closest to meeting JFF's standards of model policy.

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Criteria Used for Assessing Each State Policy Element

Met: A state’s eligibility guidelines consist of an inclusive list of at-risk indicators including off-track students in school and/or language that indicates that alternative education is for any young person who is not thriving in school.


Met: A state has clear and substantial guidelines for districts and other providers on quality standards for the operation and management of schools in at least four of the following areas: eligibility; effective practices; funding mechanisms; governance; accountability; and staffing.

Partially Met: A state has substantial guidelines in at least two of the above areas.


Met: A state allows both secondary and postsecondary institutions to be compenesated for each student's education in such a way that each entitiy is not financially harmed for jointly creating dual enrollment partnerships (e.g., per-pupil funding reimbursement or a state appropriation that incents dual enrollment partnerships between districts and colleges). In addition, all students can take college courses free of charge, and funding streams are flexible enough that funds can be used for professional development, books, and student transportation.

Partially Met: A state allows either secondary or postsecondary institutions to be reimbursed for offering dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, and substantial guidelines exist in at least one of the aboves areas (i.e., college courses are free for students or funding streams are leveraged to pay for textbooks, professional development, and/or transportation) .


Met: A state’s policies enable the implementation and spread of effective alternative education models through, for example, funding and school development support.


Met: A state provides incentives for high-performing leaders and teachers to staff alternative education schools and programs; and a state has policy mandating the ongoing professional development of alternative education staff.

Partially Met: A state requires alternative education teachers to be certified or meet other requirements, mandates a low student-teacher ratio, or mandates professional development for staff but does not provide incentives.


Met: A state has policies that recognize the need for a range of academic and support services and encourage (if not require) partnerships with outside organizations that specialize in these services.

Partially Met: A state has policies that recognize the need for a range of academic and support services, but does not necessarily acknowledge the importance of partnerships.


Met: A state has a funding formula for alternative education that allocates additional dollars beyond its state and district per-pupil dollars.

Partially Met: A state provides alternative and traditional programs with the same amount of per-pupil dollars, provides grants for alternative education, or provides additional alternative education funds for specific activities.

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Limitations of the Methodology

Analysis of alternative education policy is, by its nature, challenging. Similar to the status of alternative schools themselves, the policies that govern them frequently are found at the margins of educational systems, institutions, and policymaking. State-level alternative education policy is often vague, confusing, inconsistent, and at odds with general policies that govern high schools.

In addition, much alternative education policy is established locally, and state departments of education may support alternative education efforts that are not captured in law or regulation. While JFF conducted extensive research on alternative education policies across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including policy changes through December 2009, this analysis focuses on legislative and regulatory policy and does not address the degree of implementation at state or local levels.

Strong state policy is necessary but not sufficient to ensuring consistency and quality across a state’s alternative education programs. A deeper analysis of an individual state’s policies and systems is necessary to assess and understand the full impact of legislative changes on local policies and practices and their impact on student outcomes.

Our purpose in this analysis is to take a first step toward making visible how states deal with alternative education in legislation and regulation—and the distance between strong student-centered policies and the policies currently in place across the nation’s 50 states. As the nation and the states grapple with how to ensure that more young people complete high school ready to succeed in college and career and actually move on to postsecondary learning programs that yield credentials with value in the labor market, the role of alternative education in state and local strategies will become increasingly important. And aligning policy with state and national goals will become critical. We hope that this 50-state scan accelerates and simplifies that work.

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