I am more and more convinced that the American system of education is ludicrously wasteful. It is designed for a small number of students gifted in a particular way, with a particular learning style. It is designed for the cultural leader, the future scientist, the researcher, just as the liberal arts college is. But this is a small percentage of the population. What is worse is that it often doesn't even give these individuals the best they could get and, because of the drain from the vast majority who are just in the wrong system, it fails to serve even these well.
I'll say it again. The vast majority of American students need to be prepared to get a job and be healthy contributors to society. Sure, they need to be able to read and write, but even a minimally effective elementary school system can give them everything they need in general for that. Beyond that they need 1) to know how to be good members of society in general and 2) to know a skill that will get them a job. Accordingly, the vast majority of high school is a waste of time, except that it gets them off the streets.
Where to begin, where to begin? I have little confidence at this time in any top down correction. I think it should best start local, with the government validating, supporting, and then getting out of the way. Here's my suggestion. Local businesses should coordinate with local high schools and city administration to create career tracks in high school. The high school would offer courses that equip students for those jobs and those employers would provide internships, job placement, and would be involved in the high school curriculum.
I'm not limiting things to blue collar jobs. More advanced employers could continue this track through local colleges and work with them as well. Ball State has a program where a student's last two years of high school are done on campus, doubling for the first two years of college. Given the waste of time that is most high school senior years, this is a great idea.
Newton had made most of his major discoveries before he was 22. We're wasting our brightest kids' time.