Our History: AE & NE in TN
According to the Comptroller’s report on alternative education titled Tennessee’s Alterative Schools, one of the first alternative schools in our state originated in Dickson County in the late seventies (2005, p. 2). Former Juvenile Judge William D. Field, Sr. identified a true need for alternatives to students being expelled or suspended from school (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005, p. 2). In 1984, the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing the establishment of alternative schools for those who were continually having disciplinary problems in their traditional school environment (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005, p. 8). The legislature soon amended that bill in 1986 to require an alternative school for students in grades seven through twelve (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005, p. 8).
The Education Improvement Act (EIA) was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1992. This mandated that any school district serving students in grades seven through twelve have at least one alternative education program (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005 p. 3). The state legislature later authorized LEAs to create alternative programs for grades one through six. The General Assembly also passed legislation that prevented students from graduating from an alternative school (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005, p. 8).
In 1996, the General Assembly authorized the Department of Education to establish a pilot alternative school program, one in each grand division (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005, p. 8). The state legislature also mandated that the State Board of Education provide a curriculum for alternative schools focused on reforming students. In response, the Board released Alternative School Program Standards in 2000 (Comptroller of the Treasury, 2005, p. 8-9).
In 2004, the Senate passed Joint Resolution 746 that required the Office of Education Accountability of the Comptroller’s Office to conduct a study of alternative schools in Tennessee. That report was released in April of 2005 and noted extensive reforms needed to improve the quality of alternative education in Tennessee.
More recently (2006), the General Assembly amended Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-3404 to require the establishment of an Advisory Council, referred to as the Governor’s Advisory Council for Alternative Education. The Advisory Council is charged with the following responsibilities:
- Consider any issue, problem or matter related to alternative education presented to it by the Governor, the Commissioner, or the State Board of Education, and give advice thereon.
- Study proposed plans for alternative education programs or curricula to determine if the plans or curricula should be adopted.
- Study alternative education programs or curricula implemented in Tennessee school systems to determine the effectiveness of the programs or curricula, and alternative education programs or curricula implemented in other states to determine if the programs or curricula should be adopted in Tennessee schools.
- Consider rules of governance of alternative schools and make recommendations concerning rules of governance.
- Make an annual report to the Governor, the education committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education on the status of alternative education in Tennessee.
In 2007, Public Chapter Number 517 mandated a transition plan for students entering and leaving an alternative education setting and establishes greater accountability measures to include monitoring academic and behavioral progress of students. That same year, Public Chapter Number 211 required that the Advisory Council for Alternative Education study issues relating to the establishment of pilot alternative school programs. Public Chapter Number 455 required the Department of Education to create a pilot project for the 2007-2008 school year in Davidson County.
With the release of the first annual Alternative Education Report in January of 2008, the Council acknowledged the need to examine the following question, "What do we really mean by alternative education?” Due to the complexity of alternative education in our state, the Council proposed that the State Board of Education adopt a much broader definition that encompassed all alternative education programs in Tennessee. The Council recommended that the Board adopt a new, more contemporary definition of alternative education. The Council proposed the following which was, subsequently, adopted: “A nontraditional academic program designed to meet the student's educational, behavioral and social needs.”
In August of 2008, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Alternative Education in conjunction with the State Board of Education released Alternative Education Program Standards. The model standards address the following broad categories: mission and environment, governance, transitional planning, support services, parent and community engagement, staffing and professional development, individualized learner plans, life skills, curriculum and instruction, student assessment, and monitoring and program assessment. The standards replaced the previously adopted Alternative School Program Standards from 2000.
In February of 2009, the Advisory Council released A Feasibility Study Related to the Establishment of Alternative Programs in Tennessee with specific recommendations on how to drive quality by enriching funds for alternative education. Additionally, in February of 2009, the Council hosted the first annual Student Discipline and Alternative Education Institute. Over three hundred educators attended the first Institute. In October of 2009, the Council joined with the National Alternative Education Association (NAEA) on the first ever southeastern regional summit on alternative education. Partnering with the organization, and our friendly neighbors, this conference explored best practice, national trends, and allowed alternative educators an opportunity to collaborate with other practitioners outside of the state. The first summit was held in Rogers, Arkansas.
The Council also published (February of 2010) an executive brief entitled Promoting High Quality Alternative Education: An Update from the Advisory Council. In the brief the Council set forth several legislative recommendations/priorities which include the following: redefine alternative education, establish an Exemplary Practices in Alternative Education Award, investigate ways to enrich funding, and create a state-level position to support alternative teachers, students, and parents.
In 2011, at the recommendation of the Governor's Advisory Council for Alternative Education, the Tennessee Department of Education authorized the creation of the nontraditional school for students that are off-track and need an alternative route to a high school diploma. Metro Nashville Public Schools, subsequently, opened the first nontraditional high school in Tennessee at the Academy of Old Cockrill followed by the Academy at Opry Mills. Also that year, both the Tennessee General Assembly and the State Board of Education revised code and policy to allow for virtual public schools in Tennessee. Metro Nashville Public Schools also opened the first public virtual school in the state (MNPS Virtual School at Cohn).