The reforms never seem to work. This makes the need for reform all the more urgent. The country now spends more than $650 billion on primary and secondary education every year, far more than on our national defense, and nearly three times what it spent when Jimmy Carter decided we needed the Department of Education to encourage and guide education spending. Over the last three decades, increases in education funding have outstripped inflation by 20 percent. For many years now the United States has spent more money per-student than any other country in the world.

During that time, from what anybody can figure, there has been no overall improvement in the acquisition of skills and knowledge among American students, except among the very poor. But even at the economic bottom, where room for improvement was greatest, the numbers remain dismal: At present trends, only 9 out of 100 poor children who enter kindergarten today will grow up to hold a college degree. As a whole, the country’s educational attainments rest in the mediocre middle of international rankings—well below Canada, but above Mexico, just like on the map.