I went to the NYC public schools in the 1940's and 50's. They were safe, rigorous, and clean. The teacher's were well educated, motivated, and made sure that each student worked to their capacity. All of my friends went to the same public schools and we all grew up to become professionals.
The halls were quiet and orderly. Those students who were academic went to one of the four city colleges which were free, while those students who were not were able to go to a vocational high school that gave them a skilled craft(- automotive, aeronautics, baking, nursing, electrical, manual trades-).
So what happened?
When contemporary public schools meet the above mentioned criteria parents flock to send their children to these schools- Hunter College Elementary and H.S., Stuyvesant H.S., Townsend Harris, Bronx H.S. of Science, Brooklyn Tech., Staten Island Tech in no particular order of quality - including the so-called 1%.
Josh Hill, New London
Yep. I think it fell apart for a number of reasons. The schools lowered behavior and academic expectations, and that's always a disaster. Talented women, no longer barred from other professions, chose to be doctors, lawyers, or professors rather than teachers, and we have been unwilling to make wages and working conditions for teachers competitive.
My mother, herself a NYC public school graduate, did some teacher evaluations for the BOE and was shocked at what has happened to the quality of the teachers. She compared the current crop to cocktail waitresses. These days the typical education major is in the bottom fifth of his college class.