"The most basic problem with the educational system (K-12 only; colleges have a different set of issues) is that it is increasingly expected to show improvement in a society in which so many of the measurable things affecting educational outcomes are getting worse. When you have students who are basically on their own before the age of ten, or move eight times in three years, or live in violent and impoverished homes, or go days at a time without seeing their substance-abusing parent, or spend evenings trying to decide whether to call the cops because that man is beating up Mom again but you don't want to be taken away into a foster home so what should you do, or have reached adolescence without once seeing an adult set an alarm clock to wake up and go to work, very little in terms of policy is going to matter. Give 'em vouchers, send them to charter schools, public schools, Catholic schools, whatever you want; those kids are not going to succeed. Teachers are expected to extract good test scores from students who are absent 50% of the time or don't have an adult to reliably feed and shelter them.
Teachers are equipped, at their best and in the best environments, to be teachers. They are not prepared to be psychologists, social workers, parents, guardians, and miracle workers. Certainly not every public school draws from a population of students as poor and disadvantaged as what I described here. But it's hardly rare. Increasingly – and vouchers will serve only to worsen this problem – public school systems are a grease trap for the students no other school would take. The kid didn't do well enough on tests for a charter or magnet school, and whatever adult supervisor is responsible for him or her can't shell out for private school. Public schools, in essence, are expected to show constant and near-miraculous improvement with a student population from which the best and most well-supported students have already been plucked out."I taught at an American private high school for a mere two years. The second paragraph here makes me shudder remembering a time when, on a daily basis, I was expected to wear four or five hats (parent, guidance counselor, role model, psychiatrist, cop) before getting to finally be a teacher. (Did I mention this was an expensive private school which ostensibly should have had better resources than a public school?)
It's almost as if America as a country has given up on the Jeffersonian ideal of education as both an equalizer and a means to self- and national-improvement.
Somehow I doubt China is skimping on educational spending these days.