The challenges and opportunities in education were the topics of conversation last Friday, when teacher leaders and administrators from Puerto Rico visited ED to discuss the teaching profession and to meet with ED officials. The educators are in Washington as part of the Pilar Barbosa Education Internship, a month-long program that brings Puerto Rican teachers and administrators to Washington for professional development, workshops and lectures.
Last week’s stop at ED provided the educators a unique opportunity to engage in a series of conversations with department staff, including José Rico, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics and Eric Waldo, deputy chief of staff to Secretary Duncan.
The group went through several rounds of brainstorming sessions to explore and share concerns with Puerto Rico’s education system and to create efforts on what they can do back home with ED programs such as School Improvement Grants (SIG) – which help to turnaround low-performing schools and improve student outcomes. Puerto Rico is about to receive its first SIG funds.
Like many states, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is faced with a number of economic challenges, which have had significant impacts on education funding. The teachers discussed budget shortfalls as well as the need to fix No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Several of the teachers expressed concern that under NCLB, too many Puerto Rico schools are being labeled failures because of the steep requirements to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). Juan Valentin, an English facilitator explained how being labeled as a failing school under AYP makes the students and staff feel “dumb and stupid, because we can’t pass these tests.”
The teachers also described to ED officials some of the great things about Puerto Rico’s education system, including their hope for the future of Puerto Rico schools and their enthusiasm to be a part of that future. “I am very proud of Puerto Rican teachers,” said one educator. “I think, many times, we are the Superman that we are waiting for.”
Sam Barnett is an intern in the office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education