I went to an independent and very academically focused school in the UK. It had an entrance exam and 85% plus of attendees went on to university, including me. Just about everyone had well-off parents - well, there were school fees.
When I graduated I went to teach English in rural Japan for two years. I taught at the only junior high in the town and the kids came from all kinds of backgrounds.
There was a general acceptance that girls did not need to go to university, but only to 'short university' - two year courses, often secretarial. Also some parents wanted first-born sons to do well but not outstandingly - if they did too well they would move away to the big city and no-one would be left to look after the farm.
The expectations were phenomenally different - far more different than the children, even though my school in the UK had 'weeded out'. And the expectations were set in both cases by much more than the school. I have huge sympathy for anyone in any education system - I think there is a tendency to blame the educators for things that have causes in wider society.
Are private (fee-paying) schools better educators, or do they just select better raw material by exams and/or by taking students who come from an environment that values education anyway? Let's face it, the parents are either paying money or making a conscious choice to opt out of mainstream, so putting some effort in.
I also agree with jmh that you have to think about what has been gained and what has been lost to get an overall view. Most of you are probably aware that Japanese students tend to score well in international comparisons on science and maths. These are 'right/wrong' subjects, which match the 'right/wrong' teaching and examination style in Japanese schools. Those same Japanese students have trouble stringing a sentence together in English or any other foreign language. Making a sentence is not a 'right/wrong' task, so they find it difficult. For comparison, I was stunned to find that 13 year olds in Japan could write a total of only 5-6 essays per term. I'm not talking about English essays here, I mean all essays, in all subjects, including creative writing, social sciences, writing up science experiments, anything. I wrote that many in a week! Once I discovered how rarely they wrote anything, I could understand why the Japanese students couldn't put a sentence together in English, let alone a paragraph. And I spent the rest of my time there awarding marks and praise to anything that had understandable meaning - communication - however bad the grammar was. After all, what's the point of perfect language if you can't communicate?
That said, better grammar, spelling, use of words and punctuation all help communication. It's a balancing act.
There is one thing I had that I would like for the education of any children I ever have. That's the overall approach. If I spelt a word wrongly or used poor grammar in writing up a science experiment, it affected my mark. The rationale behind this is that there's no point in having the knowledge if you can't communicate it properly - and in today's world I think that is truer than ever!
...unfortunately (in this context, not overall!!!) I am now in Australia and as someone else said in an earlier post, a whole generation went through school here without any formal training in grammar or clear expression. Many of these people are now teachers. It's hard for them to teach what they were never taught themselves. So I'll just have to make sure my kids get that in their society outside school.
By the way, in relation to changing curricula / needs, I have a 4 1/2 year old stepson who can type his name but can't write it. I am not sure whether to be alarmed by this or just consider it progress. Related to the comment I heard once about children who could no longer tell time by an analogue clock. Does this matter? How many of us can read Roman numerals? Let alone add them?