Most of the time, we'll elect an official to high office, who never met a problem he couldn't claim to solve by throwing more money at it. Our current President, in light of what everyone calls a crisis in education, is no exception. But what the hell does he know? From experience, I can tell you that there are basically three problems with education.
The first is the obvious; it costs too much. And that cost over the last three or four decades has risen much faster than the rate of inflation. Where is the money going? Most of what reaches the classroom is in the form of teacher salaries, which can be high even in areas either economically depressed or fiscally on the verge of bankruptcy. (Rhode Island and New Jersey, to name two cases in point.)
The second is almost as obvious; too much is expected of the schools. At one time, their primary mission was to educate the children. Now they have to keep the children occupied for twelve hours a day, with all manner of daycare and after-school care and extracurricular activities, until their workaholic parents get home. (This is one factor in Scouting's declining numbers in some areas, as we contend with increasing competition from school activities.)
The third is the result of the second; a lack of interest by the parents. I can tell you stories of elementary school teachers, whose parent conferences become marriage or post-marital counseling sessions, with plenty of petty bickering between the parents, and a teacher in the middle reminding them both of why they're there. (It surprises me to this day, but Paul's mother and I never had this problem, as we instead presented a united front. This was because we got our petty bickering over with before we got to the school. Whatever works, right?)
This 2:30 minute video gives its own three reasons, which bear some resemblance to those presented here. It is written and produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie, who also hosts. You can go to Reason.TV for iPod, HD, and audio versions, as well as links to supporting materials.
If that's not enough for you, there's always NBC's Education Nation Summit, featuring any number of overpaid empty suits who never spent a day teaching in the front of a classroom.
Or, as a last resort ... there's always home schooling.
POSTSCRIPT: For those situations where teachers spend their own money to purchase supplies for students (and this writer used to help out one of them), it still begs the question, where is the money going?