Continuing this debate from where it left off yesterday, what we don't need is to remain fixated on the stale debate between the (mostly Democratic) backers of relatively recent initiatives that have produced some improvements but seem unlikely to help us reach President Obama's goal of a world-class education for all our children (enunciated at the MLK memorial opening ceremony last weekend) and those (mostly Republican) reactionaries who want to take us back to the states-rights policies of administrations in the 1990s and earlier, which identified a Nation At Risk but failed to do anything useful about it.
Instead, we should remember that ours is a federal (not a unitary national) system of government, look at what other successful federal systems of education are doing, and apply intelligent lessons to our own situation.
I have previously championed Norway's as perhaps the world's best educational system, but Norway's is a unitary national government ruling a country the size of one of our states. Instead I would direct Congress to look at the example of Australia, which has a federal system of government like ours and rules over a comparable extent of territory (though not of population).
The most important lesson we can learn from Australia's (limited) federal assistance to education, the lesson I'd most like Congress to copy, is its provision of federal funding for most of the 85-90% of the operating budget that privately managed schools, which in America would include chartered, free, and independent schools, receive from the government (Australian states kick in the rest of the government funding, while parents also contribute to private school tuition fees, the amount depending upon the families' socioeconomic status). This option has proved increasingly popular in Australia, where steadily more and more families (above one-third) choose private education for their children's secondary education, where the expected national educational attainment (that is, the number of years of schooling successfully completed) for today's generation of students leads the world, and where they host the fastest-rising, most serious competitor among tertiary education sectors to our dominance of the international universities market.