Alternative high schools often get a bad rap. Test scores, graduation rates and attendance records can make them look like failure factories. 

In New York City, only 54 percent of students graduated high school within six years at the city’s 50 transfer schools, which is the name the city uses because students who fall behind “transfer” from traditional high schools, where 83 percent of students managed to graduate within six years. (Most finish far sooner.) New York’s transfer schools are frequently featured on the city’s lists of schools that need improvement and are threatened with closure.

But an April 2022 report by Eskolta School Research and Design, a nonprofit consultancy that provides training and services to alternative schools in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., argues that New York’s transfer schools are doing a much better job at educating struggling students than traditional schools. Eskolta analyzed data for New York City students who should have graduated in 2015, but didn’t because they didn’t pass enough classes and earn enough credits. The data showed that 51 percent of these students subsequently succeeded in graduating over the next four years if they attended a transfer school. That’s double the rate at traditional high schools, where only 25 percent of this population of older students without enough credits succeeded in graduating. For younger students who were sophomores at age 17 — two years older than their peers —  the graduation rate at a transfer school was almost three times that of a traditional high school, 56 percent versus 20 percent.


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