One of the things that interests me about Matt Yglesias's writing on education is that he is the man who coined the term "Green Lantern Theory"of geopolitics, where pundits and politicians insist that our foreign policy problems are the result of a lack of will, that if only we cared enough, were committed enough, etc., our problems will be solved. It's a classic post, and you should read it if you haven't. What is so interesting to me is that Yglesias's attitude towards education perfectly represents Green Lantern thinking: educational problems are bad, and we need to fix them, therefore solutions must exist. (And, as corollary, people who oppose whatever educational reform scheme that is currently en vogue are likely shills for unions or mere obstructionists.) We can because we ought to.
I read Matt daily from when he was still in college until about three months ago, when his ill-informed edu-bs became intolerable.
As someone who spends a lot of time talking shit on the Internet, let me say with minimal malice and genuine respect (really) that talking shit on the Internet is easy. Educating is hard. Doing responsible social science is hard. This debate is desperately in need of modesty. Adjusting your expectations downward is not nihilism, and it's not despair. It is reacting to decade upon decade of discouraging data.