I have a quaint idea. Let's have content based standardized testing every couple of years or so and students must either pass or stay back until they do.
Then have a leaving exam in the main subjects with the scores given from 1 to 10. Upon graduation, students are issued a wallet-sized card suitable for presentation at colleges, trade schools, prospective employers, possible dates, etc.
Accompany this with the greatest PR campaign to make everybody aware of the new real standards (and before you all go berserk, the test is not the standard; it's only the assessment device).
Perhaps, kids would then connect the quality of their education with something meaningful, like getting a job or getting into college.
Dan Hart SFHS LAUSD "Los Angeles, the deductive reasoning capitol of America"