What Should High Schools Do?—Open Thread

We’ve hashed around some debates about educational achievement before, but I wonder what people believe K-12 education should accomplish for students? What would define successfully having educated our kids mean?

In the New York Times, Gary Gutting offers this ideal vision:

Concretely, students graduating from high school should, to cite one plausible model, be able to read with understanding classic literature (from, say, Austen and Browning to Whitman and Hemingway) and write well-organized and grammatically sound essays; they should know the basic outlines of American and European history, have a good beginner’s grasp of at least two natural sciences as well as pre-calculus mathematics, along with a grounding in a foreign language.

Students with this sort of education would be excellent candidates for many satisfying and well-paying jobs in, for example, sales and service industries, except for those that require highly specialized skills. From the standpoint of employment, high school graduates would have no need of college unless they wanted to be accountants or engineers, pursue pre-professional programs leading to law or medical school or train for doctoral work in science or the humanities. Apart from this, the only good reason they would have for going to college would be for its intellectual culture.

It’s hard for me to argue with the premise of the first paragraph—and hard for me to argue that we’re accomplishing those aims. Are they worthy goals? How do we get there?