I was talking with someone yesterday who became a teacher in the mid-1960s and has been one ever since (and a brilliant one at that - she was my kindergarten and first grade teacher). She said that she thinks one of the things that happened to public education in the last half-century is that, after the women's movement helped open doors to a wide range of careers for women, our schools lost a lot of their best teachers and would-be teachers. Because teaching had been one of the only careers easily available to college-educated women, many of the smartest and most ambitious women from the pre-1960s generations became educators. After the women's movement, though, many of those women turned to other careers, not least because they saw teaching as one of the old-school "women's jobs" that were symptoms of a more sexist age.
I'm not sure what I think of this hypothesis, so I'm throwing it out there. Do you think that a broadening of women's career options was one of the many reasons the quality of public education declined in the past 40-ish years?