Actually, scratch that. "Help with homework" continues apace in Grade 13, sad to say. Ed was up 'til 2am Thursday night dealing with an indecipherable writing assignment C. was trying to complete--indecipherable to Ed, not just to C. I hear the same from other parents.
Anyway, back to K-12. Many decades ago, when schools grouped students according to what they knew, and teachers drilled, killed, chalked, and talked, immigrant children whose parents did not speak the language could learn to read, to write, and to do arithmetic at school. Ditto for working class children and children living in poverty.
As Goldin and Katz show in The Race between Education and Technology, the country's public schools directly increased economic equality until the 1980s.
Then things changed.
Goldin and Katz say essentially nothing about what changed or why, and reviews of the book have also tended to dance around the issue of just what exactly went wrong circa 1980.
Now Brad DeLong has written a post about Goldin and Katz's book that expresses the change in the starkest terms I've seen in any account of the book:
...My teachers Claudia Golden and Larry Katz make an impressive and largely convincing argument that the trends in inequality between the top twenty percent and the bottom eighty percent in the United States, at least, have been overwhelmingly driven by the race between technology and education. Technology has kept running at a more or less constant pace. Education has not. From, say, 1920 to 1980, the United States essentially followed the recipe of Berkeley chancellor Clark Kerr: the United States ought to provide as much education for free to its citizens as they wanted.I've never seen that before.
Devotees of the right approved of this policy....People on the left noted that if you make education free you get an awful lot of educated and well-trained people, so the return to human capital goes down, the education premium that those who have been to college and have been trained in the professions can demand becomes a lot lower. And as your accountants and lawyers and doctors facing competition in the labor market can demand lower salaries, that leaves more money for the assembly line workers and the janitors and the home health aids and the nurses and the waitresses.
Around 1980, this strategy of growth and equality through education in the United States breaks down. Since then the costs of higher education have been rising at an extraordinarily rapid pace in the United States, as government subsidies are withdrawn, and as private colleges react to rising sticker costs of public colleges by raising their own sticker prices. In addition the universal commitment to pre-college high quality education has been in decline. This has stuck. Thus, unless we see a major change in American political economy, this education road that appears to have been very effective at promoting equality between the 1920s and the 1970s is now closed to the United States.
I've never seen someone say, simply, this road is closed.