Education is about changing lives, but the hardest challenges are very hard for teachers, students with deep social problems or learning disabilities that compound, year by year.
The left-out kids often end up in alternative education, but the changes in those lives become harder to achieve as each school year goes by — and each year is often attended by failure instead of success.
That is the fundamental problem that schools across Louisiana have tried to deal with through alternative education.
There are 35 alternative schools and 139 alternative education programs. A tough assessment of them commissioned by the state Department of Education suggests those programs are failing the some 18,000 students in them.
They typically get there as behavior problems or children who are chronically behind academically, and of course the combination of the two often occurs. As a percentage, far more African-American students end up in the alternative schools or programs; as a percentage in society, of course, black families are more often plagued by poverty and its accompanying ills.
Without prejudice to the dedicated educators trying to deal every day with the hardest cases, the system is clearly not working well enough.
"I think we have ignored the evaluation of the programs too long and ignored what the program should consist of in addition to academics," said St. Bernard Parish Superintendent Doris Voitier.
Voitier is one of Gov. John Bel Edwards' appointees on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It will fall to BESE, school boards and the state department to plot a path forward.
The Oct. 17 report puts a focus on the most-troubled students but it is expensive and difficult to provide the portfolio of services that will help them.
Many are getting too old for middle school, but academically not succeeding enough for high school.
Or, regrettably, parked in alternative schools until age allows them to depart, quite often without the basics they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing workforce, much less comprehend the post-high school training needed for a good job.
It is not surprising that alternative education students are five times more likely than others to quit school, according to the study. Teachers need the help of social workers or nurses or psychologists who can work with young people before they become troubled young adults.
We are glad that leaders and educators are taking an unflinching look at alternative education, but it is clearly not an easy problem: Changing lives is a labor-intensive business, whether in regular school or alternative settings.