Teachers who inspire a 'can do' culture, so whatever a child's home life is like you can help them to be aspirational and take the journey they want and have the skills to pick themselves up again when something goes wrong.
Here's an idea, it's simple, great and easy to implement - get rid of the Department of Education and make the educational system more free-market.
Our country has been pouring money into education for the last 50 years at least and all that it's gotten us is lower test scores and lower preforming students. It takes the parents out of the equation and keeps bad teachers and schools around when they otherwise would have been gone long before this.
Let parents choose what they want to do with their kids and get them and the children involved and you'll see a better education system in America.
Somehow, some way, students must become better readers. The ability to read well is necessary in every discipline, even math and science. From pre-school on, parents must get involved: reading to their children, cutting down t.v. time, taking their kids to the library, having family reading time, etc. The schools cannot do it alone.