Terrific and highly recommended article about the history and state of Catholic education in the current issue of the Hoover Institution's magazine Education Next:
Such Catholic rigor was part missionary zeal—to spread “the word”—and part defense against the encroachments of an increasingly secular world. And secular, for Catholics, meant a certain slackness in moral and academic discipline. In the United States, the so-called “wall of separation” between church and state, between order and freedom, eventually forced Catholics to build their own school system, the only country in the world where they have one (see sidebar). The battles to safeguard order, and academic excellence, were fought early and often. At the turn of the 20th century, for example, Catholic school leaders refused to follow their public school counterparts into a vocational and utilitarian tracking system. “Catholic youth should not be the ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water,’ but should be prepared for the professions or mercantile pursuits,” went one early protestation by the Association of Catholic Colleges.
It goes on to explain why Catholic schools have been so successful. To answer the last question in the article: There are many great things happening now in Catholic education, which the MSM doesn't cover too much.
For example, a great new order of holy, conservative, orthodox nuns with a teaching apostolate is the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It has been a real success story and definitely worth giving a donation to.