Joanne Jacobs has a post about a film, Boys of Barak about 20 school children in inner city Baltimore who travel to a Kenyan bording school to get a better education. It is not a message of success when kids have to travel to a third world nation like Kenya to acquire a proper education.
It is not that there can be a dysfunctional school that fails to educate even in the best education system. It is that alternatives are not locally available, which is primarily a function of the public monopoly imposed on the education system in this country.
I have thought much on this subject and I think ultimately it comes down to who is in charge of the schools, parents or politicians. One notes that most rural schools do at least OK and many of them well, while almost every big city school system is a massive failure. What is the difference? I think it is that in a rural community, most of the voters are themselves parents, therefore the school is viewed as an source of education. In a big city, however, there are far more non-child households and many parents who don’t vote, leading to the schools being viewed as a source of jobs. This is also encouraged by the larger size of urban school systems, where it is much easier to layer on management and overhead, something far more difficult in a small rural school.
Parents are hardly perfect, but overall a group of people with educations as a primary focus will run a school better than a group that sees the school as a jobs program. This is one of the many reasons that I think a voucher system would, over a decade or two, radically improve the quality of education in America, particularly for those currently stuck in the nightmare of many urban school systems, like the Boys of Baraka.