Obviously it doesn't work for the betterment of either the children or their society anymore, but only a small percentage of the population wants to change it drastically. Why? My theory is that everybody is deathly afraid of...well, leaving a child behind. The system is broken. The system is chewing up more children than it's benefitting. And yet the system is a known devil as opposed to an unknown one; we keep tinkering with and poking at the evil we know because the unknown could possibly condemn an even larger number of children than this one does. I also think the public school system, like any other successful organism, is very good at protecting itself. It has managed to be the only game in town for several generations; most people alive in the United States today are products of the system. They can't imagine anything else, and the system has told them that everything will crash and burn if the system isn't perpetuated. A little more money here, or a few stricter standards there, whole-word as opposed to phonics perhaps, or maybe if teachers held Phds instead of Masters degrees, then everything would be just rosy.
No, the system as an educational system is broken beyond all mending. So how do we fix it? I haven't the faintest clue in the world about how to fix the entire problem. On the other hand, I also don't believe we've been accurately describing the whole problem; we've been the blind men and the elephant, grappling with only part of the difficulty and never quite seeing the whole.
Part of the difficulty is that everybody wants to save everyone and believes this is possible. However, not everybody can be saved, not even if you spent your last dollar and your last drop of blood trying. Not only that, but the more centralized and distant the 'saving' authority is, the fewer children are going to be saved because further and farther means more ignorence and inefficiency. Being forced to attend an ill-fitting institution means that, at best, many campuses have apathetic ghosts that are just shuffling around doing their time, and at worst have levels of violence that would make prison guards pale. It's rare to hear of expulsions for anything short of murder or an ill-timed essay. My solution to this is to do away with compulsory attendance. Don't make people be where they don't want to be and conversely, let's get rid of people who are problems to those who do want to be in a public school setting. If we as a society want to make public schools better and safer, then we have to weed out people who don't belong in them. Harsh? Oh yes. And I speak as someone who would have been invited to leave on an academic basis.
What would happen to children who were disinvited from the public school system? I can only speculate. Our society hasn't developed cultural outlets for people considered too young to work as adults and yet who do not fit into the traditional school roles. Would there be an uptick in crime? Unless and until those outlets form, I would bet on it. Would it wake some parents up to what's really going on in their children's lives? Oh, you'd better believe it. How they would react and what they would do -- I'm utterly ignorent and freely admit it. My guess would be that the reaction would range from child abuse/abandonment to the formation of differing types of schools and apprenticeships, to the homeschooling option in all of its glorious permutations. Will children be lost? It's an absolute certainty. Would fewer children be lost than are lost now? I would say that different types of children would be lost and that it's impossible to say beforehand who they would be, how many, how badly, how permanently.
What I know is that one size never fits all, no matter what the label says. Those who believe it about the public school system are the very people who, unbeknowst to themselves, have been destroyed by it.