I say schools are in a mess not because they are a mess, rather they are in a messy spot. Education is a sloppily expensive proposition. We have to repeat the same things for each year’s new group of students, and do so for every student.
The schools undertake this responsibility as, in many ways, the last social institution remaining. By this I mean that the network of institutions and order keepers (even the family) has crumbled, and done so to the point that the schools are, in fact, called upon as something of the last best chance for some kids. In other words, there are many ways that schools work better than a lot of other social institutions, and so, in fact, are being called upon to do ever more. Let me illustrate with some stories.
Every teacher has had plenty of students whose parents don’t respond to e-mails and phone calls about Johnny and not why he can’t read, but why he won’t do any number of things he is capable of doing, like putting his name on a piece of work and handing it in after just having completed it along with the rest of the class only moments before. In my (and my colleagues’) experience, such parental unresponsiveness tends to correlate with failure on the standardized test.