The most frustrating thing about any discussion on education is the notion of tradition. Many people seem to have this idea that the way schools are run these days has a long and glorious history and any attempt to change things is fraught with danger. After all, in the old days, didn't everyone learn to read and add properly? There were no spelling mistakes, and everyone got 110% for arithmetic.
Of course, you only have to look at the history books to realize that universal education is limited to a few countries and doesn't go back very far. Even then, go back a couple of generations and you find that leaving school before Year 12 was the norm. The Year 11 Certificate in Victoria was even named "Leaving".
So the competing needs of the school of the 21st Century are relatively new. On the one hand, schools are expected to be provided a high quality, challenging education capable of stretching the best minds; on the other, schools are expected to be accessible to all, providing a curriculum that will retain students who - in previous generations - would have been expected to join the workforce. Schools are criticized for both "dumbing down" (btw, since when is "dumbing" a verb?), and for lacking relevance.Perceptions are hard to change. I remember a disagreement with someone who was telling me that teachers had three months holiday a year. When I went through a comparison of his holidays and mine, I ended up getting a grand total of nine more days off a year, but rather than back down, he asked me why I was complaining, when I had more holidays than he did. "Not three months, though!" I pointed out. "Why should you?" he demanded. "I never said I should, I was just pointing out I don't," I replied. "I'd be satisfied with your holidays," he continued.Sigh!