This is so tough. Family issues, work, pregnancy, gangs, drugs. How can school begin to compete? Especially if the essentialist impulse assumes the students will sit like machines having their heads filled with knowledge, however irrelevant or tedious.
Schools are at a huge competitive disadvantage, competing to provide these children with a future. Treating their interests, desires, and common sense with disdain is hardy a winning strategy. What they need (and we need) is to redefine the curriculum for relevance and stimulation. This is not to say the ‘fundamentals’ get left out. Rather, the fundamentals need to be taught in a context that holds the attention of the students.
A school principal, retired after 30 years, told my wife today that one of the very few things that Abraham Lincoln would recognize in our society today is the structure and philosophy of the school curriculum. This is sad at many levels. We have learned so much and the body of knowledge has changed so much since then. We have changed the relationship between society and the individual since then. We are attempting to educate a much large portion of our society now. Most importantly, the competition for the attention of the students is so much more fierce and sophisticated.
The world has changed. The successful curriculum will respect the needs of the learners.