The most common description of school today is "Boring." Ask anyone -- kids, parents, even teachers. There are many articles, even whole books, telling the sad tale of how school is not merely a waste of time, but is actually damaging.
While public schools are required to "offer instruction" in a few basic subjects, there is no legal requirement for children to be forced to attend classes in which they are bored silly and where they are not even given the basic skills. For example, reading instruction has been changed from learning how to read using phonics, to guessing at words using a farce called Whole Language, resulting in massive reading failure. The same is true in Math. The schools use "Fuzzy math" instead of teaching how to calculate for correct answers. The business world and the professions are appalled at the massive failure.
Some people still believe that the government schools are offering real education. They have not been paying attention to those schools for a long time. Their primary purpose is no longer (if it ever was) academic learning; it has become indoctrination with a generous helping of psycho-therapy. All you need to do is observe them in action. Today's state-run schools are still, as ever, the training ground for the military, factory work and other repetitive jobs requiring blind obedience. They are not the places to learn independent thought or creative action. Dumbing Down is not just a catchy phrase, it's the national policy.
Teachers majored in "education," a content-free course that attracts mostly those who have not been academically successful in either school or college. Thus, the staffs of public schools are crowded with people who are neither of high academic ability, but are not even academically oriented.
A study by the Thomas Fordham Foundation (and others) provides a key to why so many people are choosing alternatives such as homeschooling for their children. It is that the Standards of teaching in the public schools of America have long been poor and are steadily getting worse. What that means is that the quality of the teaching and the teachers has been falling for fifty years and continues today. (Microsoft is forced to hire 200,000 people from overseas because American high school grads cannot read or write English adequately or do simple math)
Ask Arthur Levine, head of Columbia Teachers College, the "leading" teacher and administrator mill, about the quality of the teacher colleges across the country. In his four-year study of those colleges (that did not include Columbia) he described them as "between unacceptable and embarrassing, with low standards and irrelevant curricula." Thus, we are left with mostly inferior instruction, low academic standards and inadequate administrators at best.
When parents discover those problems for themselves and are interested in their own children's education, they are voting with their feet, by looking for private schools or homeschooling. That group has always been professional people. In years past, doctors were the most likely group to send their kids to private schools. Today, they have been replaced by public school teachers as the occupation with the largest percentage of children in private schools. A recent report, also by the Fordham Foundation claimed that 21% of public school teachers send their own children to private schools. They should know why....ask them. Some are homeschooling.
The average college graduate is both more intelligent and better educated than the average public school teacher. Parents who choose to homeschool their children -- and I mean all but a negligible percent -- are, in my considerable experience with them, not only the most knowledgable about their own children's needs, but are far more dedicated to their children than the strangers that public schools employ. My wife and I were teachers; she in public school and I in private schools. She calls her certification a joke. We both saw the mediocrity and waste.
One thing we learned from our years of involvement in our own son's self-education (we call it unschooling -- no schooling at all unless requested by the learner) and with families is that whatever schools offer is available to everyone -- more easily, more quickly, with better quality, and on our own schedule -- in many other places. Yes, homeschooling is a form of protection of children -- from stupidity and mediocrity, bullying and coercion, boredom and time-wasting. Life is a good teacher; homeschoolers learn from real life, not in artificial, synthetic second-hand teaching environments.
We have also learned that the public schools are huge government jobs programs for adults at taxpayer expense. Their true (social and economic) purposes have little to do with either education or children. They are run today for the benefit and convenience of their employees, not for the community, not for the students who trustingly show up but who are, in droves, left behind. They are driven by political agendas, silly teaching fads, and controlled by teacher union rules.
Next time you knock homeschooling, spend some time in a public school first. Judge the secrecy, deception and corruption for yourself and then consider whether you would put your own children in there. Just don't look too close or ask too many questions -- they'll throw you out. And to your question about whether or not the schools would change "if we just hang in there and work for reform," life is simply not long enough. Sadly, the schools are working perfectly for their employees and show no signs of improvement, or even listening.