Purpose: Understanding the needs of at-risk students is thought to be an essential element for educators when they formulate and design alternative educational settings. Yet, it may be difficult for educators to distinguish between responding to the needs of an at-risk student and providing educational equity. The researcher applied equity principles and policy implementation literature to explore how alternative school teachers of at-risk students define, interpret and enact equity. Research Methods: This research was designed as a qualitative cross-case study focusing on five alternative schools in California and Texas. A qualitative thematic analysis was first applied to interviews from fifteen alternative school teachers, followed by a critical discourse analysis of government artifacts, and discursive and social practices. Findings: Teachers’ enactment of equity equated to opportunity; at-risk students were afforded equity by virtue of enrollment in the schools. Implicitly, teachers acted as gate keepers to their classroom and as such only certain students were entitled to attend. Equity arguments emerged when external forces were perceived as creating inequities. Implicit equity arguments emerged by how teachers defined success. Implications: Innovative design and practices used in alternative schools are insufficient for ensuring equity. Enactment of equity through pedagogical choices is reduced by policy procedures. Research is needed in areas: a) that will help teachers reflect on their values and priorities for at-risk students and b) of how efficacy is measured for the alternative school.
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