My favorite public education trick is to make the quality of a child's education dependent on the value of the property in their school district, because that teaches them about a cold, unfeeling universe governed by arbitrary standards.
Time for a another Brief Survey of Public Education In Indianapolis:
In the 1920s, when the Klan (motto: "Up Nort' Here We More of a Social-Club-Type Thing") ran the state, Indianapolis created a segregated high school, the storied Crispus Attucks, which remained segregated until the early 1970s. (The state Legislature mandated school desegregation in 1948, and other Indianapolis schools were integrated, but Attucks remained exclusively Negro.)
In the 1960s, with whites in full suburban flight and the old-money landlords of a crumbling downtown in high dudgeon, Mayor Dick "The Munificent" Lugar and a fortuitous Republican majority simply moved the city boundaries out to the county line, creating a Republican majority that would last another thirty years.
Of course, sacred democratic principles dictated that the Township system, with its independent schools, be maintained, lest the fleeing whites suddenly whirl on their heels and cudgel Dick Lugar into a Persistent Moderative State. For this foresight we can be doubly grateful, as mob violence is never The Answer, and the unthinkable results would have deprived the entire nation of one of the most outstanding foreign policy experts ever to vote to authorize a war and then say, "I told you so!" when it failed. So the Township schools remained, white and shining and separate, until a Justice Department suit over the still de facto segregated Indianapolis Public Schools (the old city limits) resulted in court-mandated busing to achieve racial balance throughout the county.
And guess who had to foot the bill?
If you said "The old city" you're a right cynical bastard, not to mention just plain right. Center Township would, under court order, pay to bus African-American students to the white suburbs in order to balance them. This went on until the mid-1990s. The poorest Township, whose residents were, increasingly, the very people who'd been discriminated against, saw their own schools deteriorate as they paid to send some of their students to more prosperous districts.
Of course, that wasn't all...in the interim public moneys built a Convention Center, basketball arena, Dome, baseball stadium, another basketball arena, and now another Dome, plus two major shopping centers and remodeled several office buildings, all downtown, which increased the value of aging existing buildings while eliminating a lot of property tax revenue. At the same time, as with a lot of urban areas, existing property owners helped pay for leapfrog development into the outer reaches of the county (and those other Township schools).
(We do not mean to seem one-sided about this; redevelopment has brought a lot of good things to the city. Downtown Indianapolis is now vibrant and vital, and seems even more so if it happens to be the only large city you've ever been in, and the thousands of surrounding acres of agricultural land, once bumpkin-ridden, and much of it not even used four months out of the year, is now a Starbucks, open year-round. )
Due to budget cuts in the mid-90s my wife spent three years teaching at three different middle schools. Two of the three did not have a single computer in the building for student use. Four of the six surrounding townships have student radio stations. All within fifteen miles. All in the "same" city.
So broad proclamations of the Failure of our Public Schools, which are uniformly based on a) facile use of test scores; b) parental grievances which always fail to find a single sympathetic teacher or administrator willing to help, or compromise, or offer alternatives; or c) the simple declaration that Everybody Knows This To Be the Case, never surprise me. Because beyond having a wife teaching in public schools, and speaking to her co-workers, and volunteering myself, I've grown up watching the shameful extension of institutional racism into the 21st century. Right up the block.