We may be thinking of different shades of meaning around the word ‘compulsory.’ In work, the contract between you and your boss is roped by money, and while the value or meaning of the work is technically irrelevant to the boss’s willingness to pay for it, the currency has a shared, agreed-upon tangible value. Students have no such contract, and while the only consistent ‘payment’ is the grade, there is little they can do with that currency besides escape (move to the next year/graduate) or go to college. They must do the work we demand, under conditions and circumstances entirely of our design, without question and really without a mutually agreed upon reward. Moreover, you are free to leave your job, but there is very little in today’s social structure that grants students the ability to leave school. (We may ‘say’ there is, but a whole host of deliberate design would argue otherwise, from labor laws to parental rights to all manner of age-based restrictions.)
I think you are right that autonomy-centered reform may be an attempt to escape some kind of tension and is open to subversion for profit by private enterprise. But I fear that the compulsory nature of school also means that nobody on our end, particularly those who aren’t in the classroom, has to deeply consider the content or structure of (primarily secondary) school at all.
Your article speaks of building motivational castles in the sky, but why is the foundation so elusive in the first place? Perhaps because forcing students to labor at work they cannot choose, under conditions they cannot control, for a reward that has little value, is hardly a foundation at all.