When it comes to reforming the local public education system, the V.I. Legislature has to take action now and reorganize the structure, according to an independent report by the St. Croix Foundation.
Entitled “Cracking the Code,” the foundation’s report is the result of more than 10 years of research into the public education system and what can make it better. According to the report, the foundation has, since 2005, been researching different educational models in an effort to improve student achievement. In 2013, the foundation launched an education policy steering committee
to contact a comprehensive review of the territory’s educational policies to get a better understanding of the system.
Using data gathered through the USVI Kids Count effort, the report shows an increase in the percentage of 18 to 19 year-olds not completing high school, an increase in the percentage of V.I. public school students not reading at grade level, an increase in the number of public school students not proficient in math, and an increase in the number of incoming freshmen scoring less than 500 points on the SAT exam in reading or writing.
The report also shows a link between the increases in these percentages and crime statistics. The number of teen violent crime arrests has also gone up during the same period of time, along with the territory’s homicide rate and the unemployment rate.
“With educational and public safety data inextricably linked to economics, in 2012, St. Croix Foundation deduced that a territory-wide investment in public education (in dollars and commitment) could allow the Virgin Islands to not only recover but to thrive socially and economically,” the report said. “This remains true for any community facing similar challenges based on research on successful systemic reform efforts around the world.”
In doing its research, the foundation’s steering committee put together five research priorities, ranging from organizational design to public education funding, and then compiled as much data as possible using existing educational statutes, policies and procedures outlined by the Board of Education, Department of Education and V.I. Legislature, along with individual schools. The data was then analyzed, focus groups were held, and the organization’s key findings were sent to the senators, community stakeholders and education officials.
The first finding, according to the report, was the disconnect between Education Department and the Board of Education. What was most “profound,” the report said, was the “ambiguity” in the V.I. Code surrounding the Board of Education’s role in the leadership of the education system, especially when compared to the role of the Education Department.
Most state Education departments work with boards to establish policies, receive and disperse funds, and monitor/report on the quality of education in the state, according to the report. In the territory, however, most policies governing the education system require the board to work in partnership with the commissioner of Education, even though the commissioner does not sit on the board.
For the system to work, there needs to be an alignment between the department and the Board of Education, the report said. There are different organizational structures among states, but St. Croix Foundation members said that in feedback sessions with stakeholders in the public education arena, most said that they did not understand the system in the territory that they govern, work within or support.
“In many cases, participants knew that a policy existed but did not know how it related to the entire system,” the report said.
In making recommendations, the foundation’s report gives the final directive to the Legislature with a simple “take action.”
“It is now the responsibility of the V.I. Legislature to make the revisions needed in the code that can lead to more cohesive laws,” the report said.
Other recommendations included: doing further research and assigning a code advisor to make sure the sections of local law dealing with education are in alignment; determining the hierarchal structure of the education system and ensuring that the governing entities have the proper funding to carry out their duties; establishing a clear criteria for board membership; and getting the Legislature to analyze the process by which the territory selects its educational leaders.
Meanwhile, the territory must also invest and its teachers, the report said. The foundation has also been working on an analysis of instructional management and teacher quality, along with student support systems, or existing standards that address the health and welfare of the students.