Examining Independent Study High Schools in California

Primary Researchers: Vanessa Barrat, BethAnn Berliner

Publication Date: June 2009


This examination of California's independent study high schools — alternative schools in which 75% or more of students in grades 9-12 are enrolled in full-time independent study — describes the trend of enrollment in independent study high schools and their targeted student populations. It also compares the school, teacher qualifications, and student characteristics of independent study high schools, with those of other schools serving grades 9-12 students.

Research Questions

The study addressed six research questions:

  • What was the independent study enrollment in California's independent study high schools and other types of high school in 2006-07, and what was the enrollment trend between 2001-02 and 2006-07?
  • Do California's independent study high schools target specific student populations and, if so, which ones?
  • What were the characteristics of students in independent study high schools compared with those of students in other types of high school in 2006-07?
  • What were the locations of California's independent study high schools and their school characteristics compared with those of other types of high school in 2006-07?
  • What were the qualifications of teachers of core classes in independent study high schools compared with those in other types of high school in 2006-07?
  • What percentage of core classes were taught by highly qualified teachers in independent study high schools compared with other types of high school in 2006-07?

Methodology

To report characteristics of schools and students and teacher qualifications of all California public schools enrolling students in grades 9-12, the study used a merged school-level longitudinal dataset for 2001-02 to 2006-07 to track student enrollment and used school, teacher, and course-level datasets for 2006-07.

Data were collected from the California Basic Educational Data System; the state's Education Options Office Independent Study Database; California Public Schools Directory; California's Growth Academic Performance Index data file; National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data; and School Accountability Report Cards.

The quantitative analysis contrasts the characteristics of independent study high schools with other nontraditional and traditional high schools. Qualitative data from the latest available School Accountability Report Card for each independent study high school identified targeted student population groups.

Key Findings

The study's key findings follow.

Enrollment
  • In 2006-07, 4% of California's nearly 2 million students were enrolled in full-time independent study.
  • Most of those students were enrolled in the state's 231 independent study high schools.
  • Since 2001-02, independent study enrollment in those schools increased by 44% compared to 12% or less in other school types.
Targeted Student Populations
  • About half of the independent study high schools targeted a specific student population, mainly students at risk of school failure and home study students.
School Characteristics
  • These schools were less likely than other schools to be located in urban areas or to have opened before 2001-02, while more likely to be charter schools or offer instruction below ninth grade.
  • On average, independent study high schools had larger enrollments than other nontraditional high schools and smaller enrollments than traditional high schools.
  • In independent study high schools, enrollment increased from grade 9 to grade 12, unlike in traditional high schools, where it decreased.
Teacher Qualification Characteristics
  • Most independent study high school teachers held at least a bachelor's degree and full credential.
  • A smaller proportion of grades 9-12 core classes in those schools were taught by teachers in compliance with No Child Left Behind's highly qualified teacher requirement than in other school types.
  • Compared to teachers in other school types, independent study high school teachers' subject-matter competence for each class was more likely to have been demonstrated through California's High Objective Uniform State Standard Evaluation and less likely to have been demonstrated through advanced education or training.
Student Characteristics
  • The student population of independent study high schools was less racially/ethnically diverse than in other types of high schools and enrolled smaller percentages of socioeconomically disadvantaged, English language learner, disabled, and migrant students.
  • Published: June 2009
  • Research Type: Issues & Answers
  • Methodologies: Descriptive
  • Contact info:
    Vanessa Barrat 415.615.3315


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