An article here points out that 1.1 million kids are home-schooled by parents who feel that public schools are just not safe or morally healthy environments for their kids:
How many more parents are disillusioned with their child's school but lack the resources to take them out? How many children would be home schooled if parents had the time, energy, and expertise to do it. How many children in our public schools would be in private schools if parents could afford the tuition? I suspect the number is substantial and that confidence in public schools is low and declining. Our schools are in trouble and the first person to come along with an affordable way of privatizing education is going to find a receptive public. Why is this?
The problems began to incubate in the sixties, but they emerged in the seventies when legislation and court decisions made it increasingly more difficult to maintain effective discipline in the halls and classrooms. At the same time, schools became more than just educational institutions, today they are full-service day care, offering all manner of social services, therapeutic programs, extra-curricular activities, etc. These burgeoning programs have become the tail that wags the dog in public schools almost everywhere. Many private schools feel that in order to compete with their tax-subsidized neighbors they have to add to their own menu of offerings.
Add to this the fact that many schools are not run by educators but rather by managers. They may have advanced degrees in education, but many of them are in administration because they really didn't love what they were doing in the classroom. Thus to them what happens in the classroom is secondary to everything else the school does. They would not admit this, of course, but it's clear where most administrators' priorities lie to anyone who has worked in the education field for any length of time. All one needs do is to observe how easy it is for students to be excused from class in order to engage in other activities.
There is much that needs to be done if public education is going to be rescued from irrelevance and obsolescence. One thing that must change before anything else will be of any effect is that schools need to be granted the authority to discipline their students, to permanently expel them when expulsion is appropriate without having to employ phalanxes of lawyers to justify the measure, and to use that authority once they have it.
A second step needs to be that people put in positions of leadership in schools need to be themselves men and women who love learning, leaders who will subordinate everything else that takes place in the school day to classroom excellence. School administrators all pay lip service to learning, they all say that the education their students receive is their highest concern, but in too many of our schools, class is simply where students go when they have no other claim on their time.
Many of the problems public schools face are problems they can do nothing about. Viewpoint, for example, has discussed the correlation between the quality of families in a community and the quality of schools in that community (See here, for instance).
Nevertheless, there are things that educators and legislators can do to make them better, and it is an indictment of our schools that so many parents are willing to go to such lengths to find an alternative. Public school educators can no longer afford to shrug these people off as malcontents and cranks. Public schools need to do better, but they won't as long as they keep telling themselves and us that the problems they face can all be fixed by giving them more money.