I don't know about the schools of yesteryear. I only have the perspective of one child, and the memories are fleeting.
Each school has different issues that it has to deal with. I'm sure that there are many schools that have bad teachers and/or bad administration. However, even the best schools, with the best teachers, can't force kids to learn. The kids have to do that themselves. Kids and families bring their own issues to the table. Do you really think I should be held accountable for the performance of a child who is absent 90% of the time, for example? I certainly have no power to control the child's attendance. (BTW, a school can be considered "failing" under No Child Left Behind even if the only thing wrong with the school is poor attendance, even though IME most schools have no way to enforce attendance requirements)
When they talk about paying teachers for performance, so far that's meant correlating salary to standardized test scores. However, there's a much higher correlation between average poverty rates in a school and test scores than there is between teachers and test scores.
Since I'm teaching Head Start this year, all the kids in my class are living in poverty. Should I make less money than a teacher in Miss Snooty's Pre-Preperatory Preschool up in the hills because my class might have lower standardized test scores? Bah!
You have posted a lot about the failing educational system. When's the last time you set foot in a school?