I'm a firm believer that schools are a lever by which we can change much of society. Education provides many of the tools that will help individuals plan their own course in life. However, we can't just plop a kid down for 6 hours a day in a classroom and expect that to overcome all obstacles. School is great, but we can't expect it to work miracles.
I'd be curious to hear what the no-excuses idealocrats have to say about last Saturday's article in the New York Times about immigrant high schoolers who are just not receiving their first ever formal education. The story opens by talking about an 18 year old Liberian girl who last year entered school for the first time. Think about that. In terms of school-based skills, she's essentially a kindergartner who's thrown into a high school setting. Is she supposed to be able to pass a regent's exam by the end of the year?
The killer for me is that "state education officials do not offer a suggested curriculum, provide any additional financing or track their progress. Last year, New York City provided ... about $165 extra per person; they are entitled to the same extra services as others who are still learning English, but nothing more." That's just ridiculous.
It may or may not be fair to expect schools to overcome these kinds of challenges. Let's assume that because we don't have anything better, the responsibility falls on the schools. If that's the case, then we need to make sure that schools have the support they need to provide the support that the kids need. This holds true for whatever background the kids may be coming from. If we just dump kids into the school system and say "deal with it" then we're setting the schools up for failure. That's not in anybody's interests.