Over time, the gap between the children of Mexican immigrants and the children of native-born parents tends to shrink but not disappear. Perhaps we should not be surprised that those with illiterate grandparents in rural Mexico are on average less likely to succeed than those with grandparents who led a prosperous middle-class life in the suburbs of Boston or Detroit.
All of the above tells us that unionized public-school teachers have the germ of a reasonable point: In many respects, America’s K–12 student population presents greater challenges today than it did in 1970. It is therefore not entirely fair to blame unionized public-school teachers for all of America’s educational woes. But if our K–12 students are having a much harder time because of a complex, interrelated set of social problems, what are the implications for our economic future? What are we to make of the fact that a unionized public-education system in Wisconsin failed to meet these challenges, while the Texas model (when properly measured) has proven more successful?
We take no joy in bringing attention to a neglected problem: the ongoing lowering of the skill level of the U.S. work force. This phenomenon is caused by two factors: the stubborn achievement gap between ethnic minorities and the majority population, and the demographic transformation of the work force, which will soon have a “majority minority” composition. Already, we have seen the average American high-school-graduation rate decline since the mid-1970s. And by some measures, retiring workers have a higher level of educational attainment than those who are just entering the work force.