We can now digest the federally mandated "Report Card" from the Virgin Islands Department of Education– a mandate that was predictably ignored for four years by Dr. Michael's group. The report shows that after 12 years of public education in the USVI, more than 75 percent of students are, by varying degrees, functionally illiterate. Almost two thirds of students cannot perform the most basic mathematical tasks reliably.
The VI DOE did not produce numbers on how many of their 11th graders are both literate and numerate (i.e., educated), but based on the aforementioned statistics, one can safely assume it is well south of 20 percent.
Imagine if less than one in five cars rolling off Ford Motor Company's assembly lines actually functioned. Imagine, further, if the CEO of Ford attempted to spin this breathtaking incompetence with nonsense such as, "well, granted, almost all of our cars won't start, but this is our baseline year and it's important to remember that no assembly plants are currently in need of improvement."
And yet, this is exactly what Dr. Michael said when trying to explain why, after 12 years in the care of her department, less than 20 percent of students can demonstrate that they have received an education. As The Source reported:
At conference's end, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael summed up the results: "Overall, the territory did not meet the AYP [adequate yearly progress] targets set forth in our Accountability Workbook approved by the U.S. Department of Education." Despite this statement, however, Michael said it was "important" to note this report card represents the first, or baseline year, and while AYP targets were not met in several instances, "no school or district in the territory is currently in need of improvement."
The last statement must be read again and again to fully plumb its depravity. Dr. Michael may be incompetent and feckless, but she is not stupid. To attempt obfuscation on this level requires a talent for mendacity typically exhibited by sharper propaganda ministers within totalitarian regimes.
"Baghdad" Bob's orations were vastly more florid and entertaining than are Dr. Michael's, but the game was up when American tanks began to rumble by despite his assurances that they weren't there. In contrast, the "tanks" have ensconced themselves within the DOE's walls and no one much seems to notice. Thus Dr. Michael is empowered to erect dream palaces from statements such as "no school or district in the territory is currently in need of improvement" without drawing howls of laughter from the audience.
This is the ultimate betrayal of a society to its future. Children are required to labor for over a decade in a system that educates perhaps only 20 percent of them. The other 80 percent will find out how fruitful their efforts have been the first time they try to find meaningful employment. And how do the failed products of the VI DOE repay this "favor"? A few reprisals come to mind: murder, armed robbery, illegitimacy, aimlessness, drug use, welfare.
In a recent letter to The Source, Ms. Warner argues well for educational reforms in a myriad of areas. Dr. Michael's "CYA" pabulum pales to Ms. Warner's vision and concern. And yet the very fact that Ms. Warner must enumerate so many fundamental reforms leads one to wonder if such an undertaking is feasible when the DOE can't even provide functioning toilets for its students.
Honestly, is there is a more destructive force in the Virgin Islands than the DOE? Analogous to faulty nuclear reactor, it should be shuttered completely and encased in ferro-cement for the safety of those living in its shadow. But what could take its place?
In a word: vouchers. Turn the educational system over to the private sector with audit teams in place of DOE bureaucrats. Allow parents some choice as to where to send their children to school. Poorly performing schools would go out of business rather than continuing to inflict harm. Qualified teachers would see their salaries skyrocket as the marketplace bid up their services (attracting better teachers to the territory as well). Incompetents would disappear from the system.
To do otherwise is to knowingly underwrite a system that shortchanges children – ultimately leading to fearful pathologies.
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.