Since the Republicans are bereft of ideas these days, I have one for them: get rid of the Department of Education. Now, I know what you are thinking, that’s an old idea. It is, but if the Republicans sold it and implemented it the same as welfare reform they might have something. For instance, if the department were killed and the money were divided among the states as performance-based block grants, we could see real experimentation among the states. Some states would opt for the status quo, others would try vouchers and others still would try structural changes to the existing schools. The latter seems the most hopeful to me these days.
The Cato Institute has a wonderful article accompanied by some graphs that make the point well. From the chart below, you can see that state and local spending per-pupil, adjusted for inflation, has increased dramatically in recent decades for no measurable gain (indeed, science scores have gotten worse).
I suppose you could reach a number of conclusions from the graph, but to me it indicates that there is a structural problem with school systems unrelated to spending, and performance-based block grants might well be the way to address it. I have one specific model in mind that I’ll address at another time.