We’ve all put off repairs on a building. You get used to the defect — the light in the closet that doesn’t work, the dripping tap, the cracks in the foundation. After a while, fixing it is just too disruptive.

Similarly, we have become accustomed to deeply dysfunctional and inequitable education. Can we even imagine a system that meets the needs of our democracy and economy? That would require far more educators, or at least teachers’ assistants in low-income schools; a mass upgrade of school buildings in townships and informal settlements; easy access to computers and textbooks; a huge expansion in preschool education and after-school care; and revised curricula to meet modern economic and social needs. Such a sea change is only imaginable with a big redistribution of resources from rich to poor schools, which would indeed be disruptive. But the cost of putting it off is steadily rising...

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