Here are links to the two segments Oprah aired on April 11-12 concerning the crisis in American schools:
What Bill and Melinda Gates Want You To Know
Oprah's Special Report: America's Schools in Crisis
The Gates Foundation knows that smaller schools work, but I don't think they know why. They behave as though the competition of the free market improves the schools. I think it's the long term relationships that can develop between teachers and students in a smaller school that makes it better. The teachers understand the students--how they think, what is important to and relevant for them--and the students respond because they're treated like capable, worthy individuals. The free market does the complete opposite--focuses on the ends, rather than the means.
Education should focus on the means of learning: how do you figure change at a store? How do you analyze a political speech? How does the world work? Where can you find the answer to a question?
To be fair, current educational policy does a lot of talking about becoming life-long learners. Our school district even goes so far as to grade the kids on how well they fit the "characteristics of life-long learners," which misses the point completely. Grades (both letter grades and grouping kids by birth year) and efficient methods of instruction (lectures to 40 students at a time, drill and kill worksheets, bell schedules, etc.) suck the joy of learning out of kids before they hit third grade. A paradigm shift is in order--this much we're agreed on. Unfortunately the corporate leaders of educational reform just don't get it.