Quite frankly, the problem with American education is that we don't like to see anyone fail - so we lower the bar so far you have to dig a tunnel under it not to pass. And still some do. It's pathetic, really.
Both my sisters are teachers. The older works in inner-city Houston, the younger was in Las Vegas until recently. So when they say Bush's no child left behind bullshit was exactly that, they know what they're talking about. Frankly, there are significant portions of the population we NEED to leave behind.
I keep hearing about these terrible jobs we need to let Mexicans do for us because "Americans don't want those jobs." Personally, I think the prospect of spending the rest of your life picking lettuce should be a powerful inducement to actually learn something in school. Any person who gets into ninth grade with a second-grade reading level no longer deserves to have taxpayer money wasted on them. Yes, some of it may be language barriers or whatever; the vast majority are simply lazy fools. Even if the "system" is failing you, or your entire demographic group, that's no excuse. Some personal responsibility needs to be exercised, and by failing to force that upon them, we are all subsidizing failure.
I work in the chemistry department of a university. University policy is that each student must take at least two science classes to graduate, so we developed a chemistry course to meet the standard they set. I've seen the material they are teaching; I covered the same material in EIGHTH GRADE. And still people fail. The biology and physics departments are the same.
It's not just science; ever see someone break out a calculator to multiply something by 10? I do, on a daily basis. And these aren't even the people in the eighth-grade level class, these are nursing majors!
The university used to have a writing exam, to ensure at least a minimum of skill before someone gets a degree. Recently they decided the standard was so low it wasn't worth the money to administer, so they dropped it instead of raising the standard.