I do have some thoughts that may suggest some direction for the discussion so feel free to comment on my thoughts and concerns.
I see three areas that may be part of the answers for future education:
The curriculum has to match the needs of a technologically based and service oriented 21st century. Although manufacturing will probably never go away, there have to be some basic skills that encompass the need for all possible directions. We have to stop teaching to standardized tests and teach the basics needed to succeed in a competitive world. Please don't assume that I think that testing is bad because I recognize that it is an absolutely needed metric. But when the tests are used to teach specific concepts and then the result used to measure the school, we have lost the concept of testing.
The second area is the students themselves. There are two separate issues to consider. The first is that sometime in the 1980's, we started to change the culture of education and the concept of competition. We began to call everyone a winner and there were no losers. Everyone got a blue ribbon for just showing up. But, that is not the real world; there are levels of proficiency and degrees of motivation that encourage competition. And, it is not necessarily urgent to compete with just others but as important to compete with oneself. The second part of this area is in the learning style of the students. Some children are tactile while others learn best with the written word. There are also students that have to have a "hands on" approach to understanding. We make no attempt to determine learning style and we put all children in a class and follow the same tired methods of teaching.
And then, there are the teachers themselves. Some are adequate, some are good, and a very few are excellent. But some are ineffective and need to be in another profession. Think back to high school and ask yourself how many of the teachers that you had really had a significant impact on your learning. In my own situation there were three, and that seems to be an average from my research so far. I realize that teachers are the sacred cows of education and to speak honestly about their performance is not politically correct. Or, to speak ill of the teacher's union the NEA that protects their members to the point that it is difficult to fire an incompetent teacher. The measure of teaching excellence would seem to be qualitative and quantitative testing, administrative oversight, merit and peer review, and feedback from the students themselves.
In a period of economic difficulty and the desire for austerity, this is not the time to cut teaching positions, shorten the learning day, or to continue to feed the teaching mill that is failing. We are now 25th in math and science compared to the rest of the developed world and if we continue on this track, we will be competing with those countries that are not yet fully developed.
There is a link to BloombergBusinessWeek that has a good discussion about some of the answers and particularly, the comments that are fully inflamed. Here. Important reading...