ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS HAVE A LONG HISTORY
* Many people think the alternative-school movement started with the freewheeling, turbulent 1960s and petered out in the following decades.
Not so, says Jerry Mintz, head of the Alternative Education Resource Organization in Roslyn, N.Y., and author of an upcoming book that will be a directory of nearly all the alternative schools in the United States - more than 6,000.
Alternative schools are flourishing, Mr. Mintz says. ``I don't think people realize the scope of the alternative education movement,'' he says. ``It's really massive, and it's worldwide.''
Alternative schools have existed for more than 200 years, says Daniel Greenberg, director and founder of Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass. Somebody was always trying something different from the conventional educational models.
But the turn of the century marked the real start of what could be considered a movement - the progressive education movement. At that time, alternatives like Montessori and Waldorf schools were established.
In 1958, A.S. Neill published a book called ``Summer Hill,'' about a boarding school he started in England where democratic principles were an integral part of the school. ``Summer Hill'' galvanized people to start similar free schools, and a number of these cropped up during the '60s and early '70s. They were places where kids were given a considerable amount of freedom with the hope that responsibility and accountability would then be built, says Mary Anne Raywid, a professor of education at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
``In the late '70s conservatism set in, not only with respect to schools but the whole conservative backlash - politically, religiously, economically, and with that came a kind of turning away on the part of a lot of parents who had wanted kids to have a liberalizing and free education,'' Ms. Raywid says.
Mintz attributes the renewed interest in alternative schools to the disillusionment with the current educational system.
In recent years, two kinds of alternative public schools have sprung up. One is the choice type and is usually a magnet school. The other is the at-risk model, schools within the public schools created for kids who are unsuccessful in traditional classrooms.