A state report card in Illinois, for example, shows 44 percent of schools don't meet federal standards, reports CBS Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
These kinds of circumstances often leave parents with nowhere else to turn.
Jackie King wants the best possible education for her sons Marlon and Marcus, but she worries her sons' neighborhood school isn't properly equipped to teach.
"My kids have come home with books where they had homework where the pages was tore out of it," King says.
So she tried to take advantage of a new federal law allowing students at poorly performing schools to transfer to better ones. King filled out the necessary paperwork, but her request was turned down.
It's not that Chicago public schools refuse to comply with the "No Child Left Behind" national mandate, it's that the school district simply can't comply.
More than 250,000 children in Chicago alone were eligible to transfer, but there was room for only about 1000 of them.
"What I can't do in those schools that are very successful is put 40 kids in those classrooms," says Arne Duncan, CEO for Chicago public schools. "I'm not gonna make those classrooms overcrowded. I'm not gonna overburden those schools that are successful and see those fall down."
To make the grade under the new national guidelines, public schools in this country must meet specific criteria in 18 categories. If they fall short in just one, they are classified as failing and districts stand to lose federal funding.
That pressure to improve is believed to have been behind recent scandals in places like New York City and Houston where educators were caught falsifying student records in order to boost school test scores.
"This is a tough change. And it is a complex change. And it's not gonna be achieved like turning a light switch on or off," says Rod Paige, Secretary of Education.
Paige says the stakes are high for the country, and for children like Marcus and Marlon King.
"My dream is for my children is to be the best they can be," says Jackie King.
She can only hope that by the time a better education becomes available, her children will still have the desire to learn.