Funding isn't the end-all-be-all of education improvements, but it certainly allows for the teachers, supplies, facilities and other necessary expenses to get the job done. While, the literacy rate of students age 15 and over is at 99 percent, 45 million U.S. adults (about 14 percent of the population) read below a 5th grade level, leaving them functionally illiterate [source: Literacy Project Foundation]. Although this is not the worst in the world, it is higher than one would expect from a first-world country.
On the plus side, racial chasms appear to be closing in educational performance. Black and Hispanic students are testing at levels eight to 25 points higher than in the 1970s, and the gender disparity is narrowing as well, with boys and girls testing more closely as revealed by the same long-term study [source: NCES]. Low-income and minority groups are also enjoying lower dropout rates, as well as increased likelihood of college enrollment [source: U.S. Department of Education].
Despite ongoing education and funding reform, many parents are turning to other academic options for their children. In addition to homeschooling, private education continues to be popular, and others are opting to take advantage of public school choice programs, by which students can attend a preferable school within their own system, typically one in a higher income region with better test scores, subject to space availability.
More charter schools are also popping up around the country. Although publicly funded, they are privately managed by a contract organization, and there is typically an application or lottery process for children to be enrolled, so entry is a toss-up. In 2012, about 6 percent of public schools were charter schools [source: NCES]. Although many people swear by their "leaner" approach, charter schools have actually been criticized for administration costs that are often higher than those of their public school counterparts [source: Huffington Post].
Education professionals are constantly evaluating a re-evaluating the current state of the system. Although it's unlikely that every single need will ever be met, it does appear that improvements are happening over time, even if they seem frustratingly slow on the uptake.