Tuesday, December 11, 2012


By Tracy Wilkinson, LA Times | http://lat.ms/XO8PO2

Mexico announces education reform plan

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, center, at the announcement of an education reform plan. (Mario Guzman / European Pressphoto Agency / December 10, 2012)

3:45 p.m. PST, December 10, 2012  ::  MEXICO CITY -- President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday announced a broad reform aimed at improving Mexico’s sclerotic educational system, a plan that also seems aimed at weakening the enormously powerful teachers union.

Mexico has some of the worst public schools in the hemisphere, consistently placing low on international surveys of education quality. Many blame the union and its autocratic boss, Elba Esther Gordillo, who have perpetuated a system that allows teachers to buy or inherit their jobs, regardless of skill or qualifications.

The initiative announced Monday by Peña Nieto would establish a separate and autonomous body to evaluate teachers, something that has not existed. The president also ordered the national statistics agency to conduct an accurate counting of teachers. One of the absurdities of the Mexican system has been that authorities do not really know how many teachers and schools Mexico has. That allowed Gordillo to skirt a full accounting of the enormous budget she controls, critics contend.

Gordillo, who had herself declared “president for life” of the union, has been accused of using the organization to amass great personal wealth, including real estate in Southern California. She has denied wrongdoing but does not hesitate to flaunt her riches through designer clothes, jewelry and expensive cars.

Politicians are often afraid of her because she can turn out more than a million votes in national elections.

Although Peña Nieto has been promising numerous reforms, the education plan -- and challenging Gordillo -- will represent an important test for his political skills and commitment to change.

In an elaborate ceremony to present the initiative, Peña Nieto told an audience at the Anthropology Museum that the goal was to reassert federal government control over the educational system as a way to improve the quality of learning for students and make teachers more professional.

“A fair and technically designed evaluation will strengthen the performance of teachers and help dignify the profession,” he said. “The basis for changing Mexico is in education.”

The plan already seemed to be gathering political support. The president was joined by leaders of Mexico’s three main political parties.

Gordillo, however, was absent.


additional coverage

Mexican education bill threatens powerful teachers' union

Alexandra Alper and Lizbeth Diaz - Reuters/from Chicago Tribune | http://trib.in/TNwZlI

12:06 a.m. CST, December 11, 2012 | MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's new president unveiled a planned overhaul of the country's struggling education system on Monday in a challenge to the powerful teachers' union, which has long been seen as an obstacle to progress.
Addressing teachers at a ceremony in Mexico City, President Enrique Pena Nieto laid out a proposal that would champion merit-based teacher promotions and chip away at the union's power to hire teachers on its own terms.

"Your rights will be safe because your income, tenure and promotion will not be subject to discretionary criteria," said Pena Nieto, before signing the proposal that he promised to send to the lower house of Congress later on Monday. "Good teachers will have the opportunity to advance based on their professional merits."

Led by Elba Esther Gordillo, widely seen as one of Mexico's most powerful politicians, the big union has for years blocked attempts at education reform and influenced the outcome of elections.

Elba Esther Gordillo Morales (b. Comitán, Chiapas, February 6, 1945) is a Mexican politician, formerly affiliated to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) until 2006. She is also a leader of the (PANAL), or Partido Nueva Alianza, and leader for life of the 1.4 million strong National Education Workers' Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación or SNTE).>>

Pena Nieto, 46, took office on December 1, returning to power his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, after 12 years in the opposition, promising to push a sweeping reform agenda. No party holds an outright majority in Congress.

The education reform is part of a broader pact signed by the country's top parties a day after the President's inauguration. The pact aims to break through years of political gridlock in Congress and tackle three major reforms: increase competition in Mexico's telecommunications sector, improve the management of local government finances, and modernize the education system.

A key complaint about the country's schools is the teachers' union's authority to dole out positions according to its own criteria - through inheritance or even sale of positions.

"No more promotions for loyalty, (or) cronyism with union leaders," said Jesus Zambrano, who heads the leftist opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). "Let's have promotion be based on teacher merit and professionalism."

Poor education standards are frequently blamed for holding back Latin America's second biggest economy.

While Mexico has made marked strides in educational achievement, its students lag other industrialized nations, especially in mathematics and science, according to a 2011 survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.


The reform is likely to pass Congress since it already enjoys backing from the major parties. But the teachers may push back hard against the changes.

A former PRI grandee who broke with her old party before the 2006 general election, Gordillo was re-elected in October and escaped a recent bid by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) to impose more transparency on the country's unions that would have weakened her position.

The PRI had strong ties with the union during the 71 years it ruled Mexico before the PAN ousted it in a 2000 election.

There have been mounting calls for Gordillo's removal as union leader but "la maestra" ("the teacher") has a tight hold on a small party the PRI needs for votes and it is unlikely to cooperate with Pena Nieto if his government tries to oust her.

The reform, according to politicians at the event, includes measures aimed at giving more autonomy to schools, voiding promotions not based on merit, and launching a nationwide survey to register teachers and students.

It also would grant independence to an organization charged with evaluating the educational system.

"We all agree on a central point: we urgently need to reform and modernize the legal framework for higher quality, more equitable education," said Pena Nieto.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)


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