From The New York Times, Saturday, August 24, 2013. See
Fighting Education Overhaul, Thousands of Teachers Disrupt
By Karla Zabludovsky
MEXICO CITY - Mexico's highly anticipated education
overhaul program - intended to weed out poorly performing teachers,
establish professional hiring standards and weaken the powerful
teachers' union - is buckling under the tried-and-true tactic of
huge street protests, throwing the heart of the capital into
A radical teachers' group mobilized thousands of members in
Mexico City last week, chasing lawmakers from their chambers,
occupying the city's historic central square, blocking access to
hotels and the international airport, and threatening to bring an
already congested city to a halt in the coming days.
These mobilizations, analysts said, suggest how difficult it may be
for President Enrique Peña Nieto to get through this and
other changes he has pushed since taking office in December, including
an energy and telecommunications overhaul deemed vital to revving up
Already, lawmakers, who passed the principal outlines of the education
program in December and are negotiating additional legislation needed
to carry it out, have shelved one of the bill's most vital
provisions, an evaluation requirement aimed at halting the common
practice of buying and selling teaching jobs and establishing
mechanisms to fire poorly performing instructors.
"What has happened is very grave," said Sergio Aguayo, a political
analyst at the Colegio de México. "A kidnapped city and a
Mr. Peña Nieto had focused on the public education system because he
and analysts have called it vital to moving more people into the
Mexico ranks last in standardized test scores among the countries in
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Teachers buy, sell or inherit positions as though they were family
heirlooms. Removing poorly performing teachers is virtually
impossible, even over allegations of sexual or substance abuse.
But this year began with hope that change was coming.
The main political parties agreed to work together to pass the
overhaul. In February, the seemingly untouchable leader of the
powerful main teachers' union, Elba Esther Gordillo, was ousted
from her post and jailed on suspicion of embezzlement, a rare
rebuke to powerful figures here.
But by April, members of a small but militant faction of the union
began pushing back with violent protests in Guerrero State,
including the shutdown of the highway connecting the tourist hub of
Acapulco to Mexico City. Demonstrators then paralyzed parts of Oaxaca
and Michoacán States, in the south and west.
Last week, they descended on Mexico City, where they turned the
central square into a tent city, forcing the Mexico City Marathon,
scheduled for Sunday, to be rerouted. And they blockaded the two
buildings belonging to the chambers of Congress, forcing the
legislature to meet at a convention center. "The president of the
country, the secretary of education, they are not putting up a fight
for the reform," said Edna Jaime, director of México
Evalúa, a public policy research group. "They threw it out and
left it alone."
Ms. Jaime said she believed the federal and state governments were
afraid of heightening the conflict with a direct confrontation.
On Friday, Mr. Peña Nieto defended the proposal, saying that
teachers who objected to the changes misunderstood them.
"The education reform will give them opportunities that they don't
have today," he said. "The reform benefits Mexico's teachers
because it is designed to give them job stability, clear rules and
certainty for ascending within the national education system."
Much of the rancor from the teachers has focused on evaluations. The
new law would make them obligatory every four years. Teachers who
failed an evaluation could try again a year later, and again a year
after that. After failing three times, tenured teachers would be moved
to administrative positions while newer teachers would be fired.
"This evaluation is disguised to start firing our peers," said
Floriberto Alejo, 50, a teacher who came from Oaxaca State on
Mr. Alejo said the proposed overhaul poses a risk to teachers'
seniority. "The education reform, full of tricks, is on track to
privatize education." He said the change intends to fire many
teachers and make it harder for parents to find fully staffed public
schools, therefore forcing them to send their children to private
Last week, Congress stripped that requirement from the bill, saying it
would be taken up at a later date.
"If this content of the law is eliminated in order to avoid
conflict, the reform will be practically inconclusive and have no
effect," said Sergio Cárdenas, an education expert at CIDE,
a Mexico City research university.
By Friday, the city ground to a near standstill. Getting around the
city, in some places, took two to three times as long as usual.
The country's main airline, Aeroméxico, waived all change fees for
passengers who missed their flights, while television stations showed
alternate routes to the airport and other neighborhoods.
"This is the expression of a country that is drowning in
violence," said Mr. Aguayo, the political analyst. "There is no
ability to impose democratic rules."
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Teachers blocked access to a
government building in Mexico City on Thursday. The city's central
square was also occupied. Omar Torres/Agence France-Presse - Getty
A version of this article appears in print on August 25, 2013, on page
A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Fighting Education
Overhaul, Thousands of Teachers Disrupt Mexico City.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244