In the article Our Broken Escalator (New York Times, July 16, 2011) Nicholas Kristof makes the point that "education is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to build a country." He laments that we are not spending enough on education in the US while we spend a tremendous amount of money on our military.
I agree that education is a critical investment and well worth the money. And that we spend too much money on our military. However, simply spending more on education without a good plan won't work. Plus there are stats that show we are spending more per year on education in inflation adjusted dollars now than we spent per year in each of the last 40 years.
The following are two excellent research reports which have better information on what makes an excellent educational system and how to improve it than any other research I've yet been able to find (if you find better, please let me know):
How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top (2007)
How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better (2010)