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Career Technical Education in Alternative School Settings — May 2021


Could you provide research on career technical education in alternative school settings?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on career technical education in alternative school settings. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Burkholder, S. M., & Merritt, M. (2007). Achieving student success in a regional public alternative school setting through a consequence-based model. Forum on Public Policy Online, 2007(2), 1–21. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Genesis Alternative School is a regional, public alternative school setting for middle and high school students from four participating school divisions. It serves 1 rural county school division and 3 small city school divisions. Students are placed at Genesis for disciplinary reasons. Genesis is unique among alternative schools in Virginia because of the nature of its therapeutic program (a project director with a school psychology background and a full time clinical psychologist), the variety of outcome options for students (regular education credits, special education diplomas, GED program, cooperative vocational training at a nearby facility, work-release program), and the staff training model (consensus decision-making, extensive psychological staff training). This program has worked with over 1000 students over the past 10 years with 62 seniors completing their high school experience at Genesis with a high school diploma. An additional 75 students have earned their GED while enrolled. This is a dynamic, ‘in-the-moment’ program which directly addresses social decision-making, personal responsibility for choices and consequences, as well as academic preparation for program completion.”

Foley, R. M., & Pang, L. S. (2006). Alternative education programs: Program and student characteristics. High School Journal, 89(3), 10–21. Abstract available from full text available from

From the abstract: “Alternative education programs are often viewed as individualized opportunities designed to meet the educational needs for youth identified as at-risk for school failure. Increasingly, these programs have been identified as programs for disruptive youth who have been referred from traditional schools. The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of the administrative structures and physical facilities of alternative education programs and to describe the student population and educational services being offered to youth attending such programs. The findings suggest programs appear to be largely site-based programs, often operating in physical facilities with limited access to academic supports. The student population appears to be mostly high school students with a large portion of students identified as disabled. The general education curriculum is reported as a predominant course of study among alternative schools, supplemented with vocational education. Students appear to be provided with a number of school and community support activities. Implications for research and practice are discussed. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.”

Hanover Research. (2018). Alternative education models and strategies. Author. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Alternative education delivery can occur within traditional schools or at separate sites. Alternative education can serve many types of students to meet a range of goals, such as helping students earn academic credits, providing career preparation and credentials, or assisting students in transitioning out of a detention or treatment program and back into traditional schools. The services provided by an alternative school or program depend on the program’s purpose and the specific population served, but may include: regular academic instruction, counseling, behavioral services, social skills and support services, and career education. This research brief describes the types of alternative education services that school districts may provide, and summarizes the research evidence supporting each type of alternative education model.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“Career technical education” OR “career education” OR “vocational education” OR “job training”) AND (“alternative school”) AND (research)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.