The Department of Education of Puerto Rico has had three different secretaries in less than two years. From crumbling school buildings to corrupt officials, the turmoil facing the public education system on the island is nothing new. Furthermore, it is also in danger of losing federal funding since less than 50% of public school students passed the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) this past school year. In order to avoid this scenario, all students must pass the Spanish and mathematics exams by 2014. The island's public education system received an estimated $727 million in federal money last year.
Should Puerto Rico lose federal funding for its public schools, those who stand to lose the most would obviously be its students, many of whom come from lower-income families. Some of the reasons why the island's Department of Education is in such dire straits can be attributed to the lack of strong leadership and vision, poor management, and friction between the teacher's union and the administration. According to the Website of Sapientis, a non-profit organization working to improve Puerto Rico's public education system, 78% of public school students are not proficient in mathematics, and about 60% are not performing at grade level in neither Spanish nor English. The interim Secretary of Education, Jesús Rivera, is currently facing senate hearings on his confirmation. Unfortunately, his prospects look quite dim. Meanwhile, for most families who can afford it, the best solution is to enroll children in a private school, usually a Catholic school.
In Puerto Rico, unlike the U.S, a private school education is not considered to be elitist, or something relegated to the very well-off. Sadly, it is deemed as a necessity, as public schools are considered by most as a complete failure. The result is a growing disparity between the rich and poor. Education is perhaps one of the best tools to fight poverty, which an estimated 45% of the island's population lives under. Moreover, in today's world, a well-educated workforce is absolutely necessary in order to stay competitive. When the public education system cannot provide a decent education for children, something which should be a universal right, society as a whole suffers in many different ways.
(Update (9/19/10)- Jesus Rivera was officially named the Secretary of the Department of Education of Puerto Rico on September 15th.