Skip to main content
California Department of Education Logo

Examples of Alternative Schools and Programs

Examples of types of specialized schools and programs that may, at the discretion of the school district, be established as Alternative Schools and Programs of Choice under California Education Code sections 58500 to 58512.


  • Early College High Schools are small, autonomous schools that blend high school and college into a coherent education program. They are designed so that all students can achieve two years of college credit at the same time they are earning a high school diploma (within four to five years of entering ninth grade). These schools are designed for young people who are underrepresented in postsecondary education.

  • Middle College High Schools are high schools located on a community college campus. These schools offer students at risk of educational failure when they enter high school the opportunity to take high school classes as well as college classes and increase the likelihood of qualifying for college upon graduation. The Middle College National Consortium External link opens in new window or tab. has more information.

  • Magnet Schools are designed to attract students from their schools of residence by providing special curriculum opportunities. Magnet schools are often oriented around a special interest area, career education, or vocational skills training.

  • Metropolitan Career and Technical High Schools feature a strong advisory program, small school size, and community-based learning. Find out more about these schools through Big Picture Learning External link opens in new window or tab..

  • New Technology Schools External link opens in new window or tab. emphasize access to technology through project-based learning.

  • Open Classroom Schools provide learning activities that are individualized and organized around interest and learning resource centers. These schools may feature multi-grade classrooms.

  • Schools Without Walls utilize community facilities and resources for learning activities and may offer internships or project-based learning.

  • Thematic Schools are organized around a curricular theme such as the humanities, the arts, international relations, or health careers.

In addition to the schools listed above, alternative schools of choice also include schools that offer:


  • Fundamental Schools are a type of school that emphasizes basic facts and skills, parental involvement, and a structured learning environment. It may be an option for children or adults who lack access to traditional formal schooling. These schools may have smaller class sizes and a back-to-basics approach to learning.

  • Montessori Schools External link opens in new window or tab. have practices that foster rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development, with a goal of nurturing each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding and respect.

  • Waldorf Schools External link opens in new window or tab. educate transitional kindergarten through grade twelve students and cultivate a love of learning and self-knowledge by addressing multiple aspects of each student including the physical, emotional, intellectual, social, cultural, and moral through a creative, arts integrated education.

Instructional Strategies

  • Independent Study is an alternative to classroom instruction consistent with a local educational agency’s course of study and aligned with State content standards.

  • Dual Language Immersion provides instruction for native speakers of English and native speakers of another language to learn in more than one language.

  • Multi-age Classrooms are classrooms with students in more than one grade.

Specialized Programs for Targeted Student Populations

  • Street Academies are schools for students that have dropped out or to help prevent students from dropping out.

  • Newcomer Centers are designed to help students who have little or no English proficiency. The Newcomer Students web page provides information and resources for newcomer students.


  • Internships are designed to give students direct experience in fields of possible future employment, with a core curriculum adapted to those areas and interests.

  • Magnet Programs are designed to attract students to particular schools by offering educational features attractive to students and their parents, such as various types of specialized instruction.

  • Parent Participation Programs are designed so that parents and guardians provide classroom assistance and other support that is integral to the program. Typically, parents are heavily involved in setting the goals, objectives, and direction for the program. These programs are more common for students in the elementary grades.

  • School-Within-a-School is a “minischool” or identified unit within a traditional school with a focus on a special interest area or learning style. This option provides one approach to achieving a smaller learning community.
Questions:   Educational Options Office |
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, May 1, 2024