Actually, except for the specific exception noted below, American public schools are doing pretty well. Among each years' high school graduates, you will find a bell curve range of competency in whatever subject area you choose to measure. Most graduates will not yet have the skill level to be a scientist or writer of books. But most will have the skill level to do their taxes, balance their checkbooks, write e-mail memos, keep records and sell the myriad numbers of gizmos and gadgets that now increasingly dominate our lives. Those who go to college will have the opportunity to acquire further skills in the areas of science, mathematics, research and writing, but may not develop the interest to pursue these opportunities. In the modern era, it has really never been much different.
Part IV -- Conclusion
If the authors of the report are really interested in poor education as a national security threat they are looking in the wrong direction. In fact, it is Ravitch, in her critique of the report, that spots the real area where these two come together. There are parts of the country where poverty and "racial isolation" result in such poor educational (and vocational) opportunities that the majority of the population has no hope of sharing in the general prosperity and promise of the country. These people will not acquire the necessary skill set, nor will they be indoctrinated with the patriotism, that education is meant to deliver. And, as far as FDR's ideal for education, the ability to make wise political choices, it is irrelevant for those who live in ghettos that the political system has all but abandoned.
The enclaves of deep and lasting poverty are in fact areas of potential violent rebellion. This was shown to be so in the 1960s and it can happen again. That is a good reason to take Ravitch's suggestion, "If education [is] truly the key to our national security, perhaps we should allocate sufficient funding to equalize resources in poor neighborhoods." Seriously. To do so would be a wiser investment, in terms of "national security," than the trillion and half dollars we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.