For purposes of analysis, education for difficult-to-educate youth can be categorized into three overlapping programs: special education, at-risk education, and corrections education. Up to five sectors may be involved in the provision of these programs: public schools, charter schools, nonpublic schools, private schools, and homeschools.

Although each of these programs and sectors has many unique qualities, they can be differentiated by four defining characteristics. The first characteristic is the degree to which parents versus public officials control the placement decision. Who is the gatekeeper on whether or not a child is served by a particular program and in a particular placement? The funding source, public or private, is the second characteristic. The third characteristic pertains to the legislative environment and the extent to which the program operates with mandated funding and special legislative protections. The fourth characteristic is concerned with ownership; is the school or program a government entity or is it privately owned? (See Appendix III.)

How is this collection of programs, sectors, and characteristics to be evaluated? As a preliminary effort, we will evaluate them against a model delivery system. As we define it, a good model for serving difficult-to-educate students has the following three attributes:

  • Performance measures. The education program is results oriented. It incorporates meaningful measures of student achievement and/or development which can be used to assess the program’s direct benefits to the student.

  • Financial accountability. The program incorporates incentives to control costs and maximize the value to the student of available resources. It links funding to student outcomes, directly or indirectly.

  • Student access. The program is available to students needing services. It is financially accessible and programmatically accessible.