I don't see how promoting organizational improvements as an alternative to educational freedoms is a good solution here.
In the industrial era when the system started, there was a somewhat defensible position that a conformist generation of young people indoctrinated with the same beliefs and an inclination to defer to authority was exactly what the factories needed. That era has passed. Education is priceless, but schooling and its associated credentialism is arguably the worst market distortion of the past century.
The former New York Teacher of the Year wrote a book on this topic: https://www.amazon.com/Dumbing-Down-Curriculum-Compulsory-An...
He was part of the Vanderbilt University study of kids who score at least 700 on the verbal part of the SAT, or 630 in math, by age 13. I was part of the Johns Hopkins program, which is now the Center for Talented Youth which has similar requirements. he scored 800 on the math portion, 680 on verbal at age 12. I scored 800 on the verbal and 530 on the math at 12. He's a tenured math professor and published author. I'm an IT consultant of 20 years and a published author. I think I'm just as qualified to speak on behalf of this group as he is.
Those kids are under-served by the school system to the point of failure or near failure.He's completely right, talent isn't a number, but that number is indicative on an innate skill for knowledge assimilation and synthesis that is greater than average. Given the proper scholastic environment, these kids ARE capable of more than most, and should be allowed to find their niche just as much as the majority.
The problem, in my opinion, isn't that the school system is too rigidly skewed towards the majority, or that there are bad teachers. On the contrary, throughout my school career I've had a number of exceptional teachers that I still admire, respect, and cherish my time with, even the ones with whom I didn't necessarily get along with well (I was a jackass at times).
The school system had always seemed to me to be too cookie-cutter oriented, and was very difficult for anyone who didn't fit the mold. I didn't fully understand why until about 10 years ago when I read an article and then a book by John Taylor Gotto. The article is "The Six Lesson Schoolhouse". http://www.cantrip.org/gatto.html is the article. The book is "Dumbing Us Down" for sale here: http://www.amazon.com/Dumbing-Down-Curriculum-Compulsory-Ann... or at any good library.
The problem is the way the school system itself is structured. In the US, we're utilizing a school system that was designed 150 years ago and hasn't changed much since. We created this "modern" system during the industrial revolution's sweep across America. As machines made farming orders of magnitude more efficient, cities grew at an astounding rate, and industrial jobs became the dominant employment sector. The need for rigorous schedules became the norm with time zones and train schedules, and later with the whistles and bells of assembly line manufacturing. Strict scheduling in schools helped acclimate kids to the forthcoming work environment. It was a great thing, and helped build a strong and well educated workforce.
As times changed, however, schools didn't. We acclimated to special needs kids with attention or learning disorders, which is fantastic because we're able to take these kids, and get then up to the level of their average counterparts, and make them into productive members of society rather than ignoring and shunning them. But we don't do nearly enough for the small fraction who are highly gifted. We simply put them into "harder" or "higher level" classes than their peers. This isn't an acceptable solution. We need to stimulate them, to find out where their passions lie then feed them accordingly. Do they react better to lectures, or readings? Do they react better to more solitary studies, or in group environments? Do they need a standard amount of repetition to help boost retention, or does that simply bore them and artificially stunt their natural abilities?
Mr. Ellenberg is right that pressure is not the proper tool to make the most of these young minds, but neither is pretending they're not exceptional, and not giving them the opportunity to see exactly how far they can go.
One example given was of a 17-year teaching veteran- an English teacher that was illiterate! I'm not entirely sure how that happens, but anything is better than what is currently happening with our schooling system- and make no mistake, it's not an education system, but a schooling system as former NYState educator of the year John Taylor Gatto  argues [3-5].
For anyone that hasn't read JTG, this is his most well known work and I highly recommend it (and his others). Surprised that no one had mentioned it yet as it's highly relevant to the issue at hand.
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