Education is too important to be left to the government. A free society needs individuals who learn to think for themselves. Producing cookie-cutter adults out of children with different interests and abilities may seem like a cost-effective way to do things, but it isn't good for our kids or our nation. And it isn't even cost-effective! The costs of the current education system have been growing faster than inflation for decades.
The incentives for producing a good result at a reasonable cost are all wrong in a system where government controls everything, including paying for it. It sounds good at first – everybody gets the service "for free". But that just means that everybody pays, more and more every year, and nobody is really in control.
More money (higher taxes) is not the answer. That has been tried, over and over again. That's how we got where we are today, with government schools that cost more to operate per student than private schools and produce results that should be embarrassing to all involved. And it's not the fault of any one group. There are many good teachers in public schools, but they can't do their best in a system that is over-regulated. Advances in technology should be leading to both more effective teaching and lower total costs – instead they have mostly been turned by this dysfunctional system into a series of expensive boondoggles that only profit certain favored companies and leave schools with equipment that is obsolete almost as soon as it is installed.
The current K-12 educational system is fundamentally flawed because it is based on what is essentially a socialist model. It is failing to meet our expectations for the same reason that agriculture and manufacturing kept failing to meet expectations in the old Soviet Union. Minor "reforms" or better "planning" will not yield the improvement we really need. The whole system needs to be replaced by one based on a free-market model.
These problems started at the local level, and were made worse by state governments, even before the federal government got involved in a big way. Mostly they need to be addressed at the state and local level. But the federal government can at least try to avoid making the problems worse. To that end, here are some steps Congress can take: