Throughout its history, American education has included alternative forms of schooling that provide choices to parents, students, and teachers. Over the years, alternative schools have provided opportunities beyond those offered by traditional public, religious, and independent schools. In many different formats and motivations, they have met evolving needs.

Public schools did not exist during the Colonial Period (1607–1783). Lawrence Cremin has described the period as the golden age of alternatives. These alternatives ranged from formal Latin grammar schools to academies, dame schools, moving schools in the South, the use of tutors, and the apprenticeship system, reflecting the strong religious beliefs of the colonists.

Following the formation of the United States, the focus was on nationalism and patriotism. During the National Period (1783–1876) of immigration, industrialization, ...

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