Everyone likes to point at 'educational standards' and wring their hands at how they have declined and point at teachers and schools and wash their hands of responsibility. I think it is a much bigger societal problem that involves parents and the community and changes in societies expectations. And it probably started right after WWII with the GI bill (which was great legislation, but began the over emphasis on everyone getting a college education and the devaluing of 'vocational' training.)
1. We now as a society expect elementary and secondary public schools to educate everyone to college entry level regardless of innate ability.
2. We expect them to provide discipline and structure to children that for 16 hours a day and weekends receive neither.
3. We expect them to 'mainstream' severely learning challenged children within the same format with 'gifted' students and without regard for cost or the penalty we impose on standard students when their teachers devote a large portion of their energy on those with learning/behavioral challenges.
4. We have created a legal and societal shift where when failure occurs it is the presumption that the teacher, school, and administration is at fault and not the child or the parent or the community.
5. We have created an expectation that all effort is equal by giving prizes to all contestants, giving presents to all attendees at birthday parties, and that anything less than an 'A' needs to be justified by the grader and not the gradee.
6. We have created a children's drug culture that medicates every non-perfect behavioral characteristic with powerful drugs.
7. We have always created heroes out of athletically gifted children, but we have over recent times become less celebratory of the academically gifted children.
8. We have always created somewhat different standards for athletically gifted children, but we have been corrupted further by the incredible influx of money into athletics at every level.
9. We have in an attempt to 'raise standards' stifled creativity in education - we 'teach to the test' now rather than teach, penalize creatively wrong answers, and have underfunded or cut the creative non-core curriculum that stimulated and broadened our students education.
And on a slightly political level
10. We put incredible power into the hands of local school boards and allow them to redefine course curriculum for ideological reasons and not for educational reasons.
11. We accept and celebrate politicians who say 'I'm not a scientist, but I slept at a Holiday Inn last night, and ....' and then put them in charge of science and technology.
12. We exchange news for commentary and entertainment, debate for demagoguery, and 'balance' for fact.
13. We exchange sound bites for insight.
14. We create incredible wealth opportunities for moderately capable people and little support for teachers and are then surprised that our pool of qualified teachers shrinks.
Sorry for the diatribe - but I feel strongly that we as a society get the educational system we deserve and the focus on teachers and schools as opposed to the communities and society in which they operate is the main reason that 'fixing our broken system' is something we have been unable to do.