Earlier this week, U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the Puerto Rico Education Summit regarding the urgent need for the island to improve the quality of its public school system. In his speech, he highlighted some important factors, which includes "embracing innovation, academic rigor, accountability, and effective strategies for accelerating learning for all students." He used The School of San Juan as an example, given that it was one out of hundreds of schools worldwide to be selected into Microsoft's Partner in Learning program. Two of the things that make The San Juan School so unique, besides the fact that it's a bilingual public school, is the existence of a pre-school program and its 7:30AM-5PM schedule.
Studies have shown that children who were enrolled in pre-school programs, compared to those who didn't, have higher incomes, attain a higher education level and are less likely to be involved in criminal activity when they become adults. This is particularly true for children who come from poverty-stricken homes. Nowadays, most local and state governments are spending more money building and maintaining prisons rather than investing in establishing pre-schools. The controversial Head Start program exists in Puerto Rico though.
While much attention has been given to the dilapidated conditions in many public schools throughout the island, the U.S Department of Education announced a $153 million grant to remodel an estimated 63 schools, not enough focus has been given on teacher performance and school curriculum. I live near a public high school, as well as a private one. Those who attend the former are probably in class no more than six hours a day, while those in the latter group less than five hours a day. As for the number of school days, I can say with much confidence, that for most of the island's schoolchildren, it is nowhere near those of top academic performing countries such as Singapore and South Korea.
In discussing how Puerto Rico can improve its public education system, Education Secretary Duncan did not bring up the issue of charter schools. This can largely be attributed to the huge resistance from the teacher's unions, as expected. Governor Fortuño, a strong supporter of public-private partnerships, has also gone craven when the topic of charter schools emerges. As local educators and government officials look for ways to overhaul the island's public school system, perhaps they should emulate The School of San Juan model. Much is at stake when it comes to the continuing laggard performance of schoolchildren, which speaks volumes on the island's future.
Note: The image above was obtained from the official Web site of the City of San Juan.