I suspect other, less nefarious factors affect perceptions more. With college becoming the norm, the types of workers with no more than a high school diploma are more likely to be in the lower part of the talent distribution today than they were a generation ago. Employers might conflate this shifting composition of high-school-educated workers with a diminishing quality of high school education itself.
The truth is, today’s young people do need more, or at least different, kinds of training and education to succeed in the global marketplace for talent. And plenty of policy changes — like making the most challenging school districts more attractive places to work — could help improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged students. But in the meantime, let’s stop denying the measurable, if modest, progress that U.S. schools have made in the last half-century.