As bad as they are, Wisconsin's tests scores are slightly better than the national average for public-school students.
In 1998, American public school eighth-graders averaged 261 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test. In 2009, they averaged 262 out of 500. In 1996, they averaged 271 out of 500 on the NAEP math test. In 2009, they averaged 282.
In 2009, only 30 percent of American public school eighth-graders earned a rating of "proficient" or better in reading. Only 32 percent earned a rating of "proficient" or better in math.
This ignorance did not come cheap. Nationwide, according to the NCES, public schools spent $10,297 per pupil in fiscal 2008.
Does anybody do better with less money? Yes.
In 2009, the eighth-graders in Catholic schools averaged 281 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test -- 19 points higher than the average American public school eighth-grader and 15 points higher than the average eighth-grader in a Wisconsin public schools. On the math test, eighth-graders in Catholic schools averaged 297 out of 500, compared to an average of 282 for eighth-graders in public schools nationwide and 288 for public school eighth-graders in Wisconsin.
In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, as noted on the archdiocese's website, Catholic elementary school tuitions range from $900 per child at St. Adalberts in Milwaukee to the $5,105 for a non-parishioner child at St. Alphonsus in Greenhdale.
In addition to being less expensive and better than public schools at teaching math and reading, Catholic schools -- like any private schools -- can also teach students that there is a God, that the Ten Commandments are true and must be followed, that the Founding Fathers believed in both and that, ultimately, American freedom depends on fidelity to our Judeo-Christian heritage even more than it depends on proficiency in reading and math.
What every state in the union ought to do is take a look at the public school teachers protesting in Wisconsin, take a look at the test scores for the nation's public school students, take a look at the $10,000 per year it typically takes to keep a child in a public school and pass new laws with three simple provisions: 1) every parent of every child in every school district in the state shall receive an annual voucher equal to the per-pupil cost of maintaining a child in the state's public schools, 2) they shall be entitled to redeem this voucher at any school they like, and 2) the state shall not regulate the private schools, period.
Let American parents decide who will be their partners in forming the hearts and minds of their children.