But it uses compulsion to fill its schools and to force citizens to pay for them.
And that wand of compulsion is now largely controlled by public employee unions, which in turn force some very strange ideological agendas on public education. (That part of the story takes us into a deep historical well.)
All this results not just in bad schools that do not get any better, but in virtually all schools being incapable of more than mediocre outcomes.
To solve that problem, mediocrity is redefined as excellence, and real excellence is rare and often unknown. Failure is routine, and everything that is not explicit failure is implicitly regarded as success. (I have a note on this “Paradox of public education” here.)
So, the state isn’t really competent to set standards for education, either, even if those standards faintly resemble something desirable. State legislators, education bureaucrats, and union people don’t really know what they are doing, and don’t really mean it in any case.
The deterioration is generational, meaning that it gets worse with each succeeding generation, but is successfully camoflaged via propaganda as “continuous improvement.”
Parents are undermined; children are misdirected, miseducated, and trained to forget what they’ve learned at home (a process accelerated by the years of heavy immersion in imitative peer cultures that public schools promote as “socialization,” which is in fact not socialization but is, rather, a deleterious element of institutionalization); teachers are both baffled and made more willful; administrators are the ministers of propaganda.
Even homeschooling is put at a disadvantage because it is compelled by the state to mimic the state’s curricular requirements, as if the state had any idea what it was doing in the first place.
The public schools are the ground zero of the potentially catastrophic dilemmas of American civilization. There is no way to fix schools now but to get kids out of them. Pouring more money into them is to encourage more of the same.
Like much of government, public schools are now an extortion racket. They are also the single most important factor (more important even than the universities) in the ruination of American society.
The way out, again, is to get kids out of the schools. Homeschooling and learning networks and apprenticeship are the best alternatives at the moment. While the internet is the great liberator, and cyberspace is the “learning space of the 21st century,” the public schools are the lead paint of the 21st century. They cannot be fixed and they do incalculable damage.