CASE STUDY 3: Ombudsman Educational Services, Libertyville, Illinois

Serving over 2,000 students from 102 districts in eight states during 1995-96, Ombudsman Educational Services is among the largest private providers of alternative education under contract with the public schools.48 Established in 1975 to provide alternative education to students who have either dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out or being expelled, Ombudsman averages an 85 percent student retention rate. Per-pupil cost of the program: $20-$25 per day—about half the cost of educating a student in a regular public school.

Ombudsman seeks to increase student achievement enough to enable the student to return to his or her home school prepared to graduate. Students may also graduate directly from Ombudsman with a diploma or GED (General Equivalency Diploma).

Teachers in Ombudsman schools are state certified and most Ombudsman programs are accredited by the North Central Association. Ombudsman’s approach involves self-paced instruction with low pupil-teacher ratios (less than ten-to-one). Students attend Ombudsman schools for three hours a day, five days a week, working at their own pace with computer-based instruction on basic skills. Says Boyle, "You can never fool kids. Unless they see something worthwhile, they’ll stop coming."49

Said one 12th-grade student about Ombudsman’s concentrated approach, "I learned more in these four hours than I learned in a week at my old school. You learn about three or four subjects a day and spend about 45 minutes on each subject, so it’s like a classroom. . . . Four hours is long. By the end of the day, you’re tired."50

Said another student, "They do tests so you start with what you don’t know and you don’t redo the things you already know. You don’t get bored. You go at your own pace."51

Don Gossett, superintendent of the 2,400-student Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Illinois, contracts with Ombudsman for twelve students. "We’re pleased with what they provide. It’s truly an alternative program. It’s very individualized and designed around technology. We use it as a last chance type of thing for students who are highly at-risk."52 At a cost of $3,000 per student, Gossett says the program is cost effective. "We could not provide a program on campus for what they do it for."