Working alongside the Puerto Rico Department of Education and Universidad del Sagrado Corazón to help students and educators thrive.

Since 2017, a FOS collaboration with the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) and local partner Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (Sagrado) has not only produced a wealth of new research to address the unique concerns of Puerto Rico’s students and educators but has also transformed the department’s approach to evidence-based policymaking.

As the primary agency overseeing a school system that serves more than 250,000 students and 40,000 staff members at nearly 900 schools, PRDE sought to establish new internal processes for testing targeted interventions to improve student outcomes and support teachers and administrators.

“The Puerto Rico Department of Education, through the Institute for Professional Development, trusts in the valuable relationship that we have developed with FOS since December 2017. We have managed to co-design, implement, and evaluate high-impact projects such as EDUGESPRO, ATEMA, and ACEMOCIÓN. As manager for these projects, I feel grateful for the effort and dedication to overcome hurricanes, earthquakes, the Covid-19 pandemic, and changing administrations. Today, we can say that we are stronger as a unit to achieve meaningful change in the public administration and education of Puerto Rico.”

Damarys Varela Vélez, Operations Manager, PRDE Institute for Professional Development and University Relations

To-date, the partnership has undertaken several large-scale, cutting-edge research projects. Over the span of three academic years, researchers conducted a major randomised control trial to measure whether and how a new management training program, informed by a territory-wide survey of school principals, could improve student outcomes and create communities of practice among school management professionals. In another randomised control trial run across 25 schools, researchers demonstrated that the use of online math platforms helped students make academic progress during the pandemic. The research ultimately informed a three-year program that trains teachers on the use of computer-assisted tools to boost student math scores.

Finally, to inform ongoing concerns about school closures throughout Puerto Rico, a study of 400 school closures over eight years helped policymakers understand how to improve student outcomes even as schools close and consolidate. This work is only the beginning of many initiatives to come, including a study on how to best support student socioemotional health.

The partnership includes researchers and experts from across Canada, the mainland United States, and Puerto Rico who specialise in education policy, program evaluation, and the study of public sector organisations. However, key to the success of these projects were FOS research staff who, embedded within PRDE, were able to learn from and work alongside PRDE staff to achieve shared goals. A joint commitment to Puerto Rico’s students and the partnership’s overall purpose have helped the partnership persist and reach its goals despite several humanitarian disasters, including the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the Covid-19 pandemic.