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Peña Wins Big on Education Reform

Enrique_Peña_Nieto_-_World_Economic_Forum_on_Latin_America_2010 (1)

Mexican President Peña Nieto’s education reform sailed through the Senate today, finally clearing the biggest hurdle to passage. The vote, a major victory for Peña, comes amid resistance from the country’s powerful teachers unions, who were dead set against the law and vowed to challenge it through a series of protests in the country’s capital. One of the country’s largest unions has vowed to continue the protests despite losing the vote, but it’s now nearly a certainty that the new, sorely needed reforms will go into effect.

As ABC News notes, Mexico’s teacher’s unions enjoy near-total control over the country’s education system, including the hiring and firing of teachers. Close connections with the PRI, which controlled Mexico for much of the party’s history, further solidified their power: they had ample opportunities to secure money from the state and an ally that would turn a blind eye to the rampant corruption in the education system. The results speak for themselves:

Mexico today spends a greater share of its budget on education than any other member of the OECD except New Zealand. Out of that budget, the country spends more than 90 percent on staff compensation, again higher than any other member of the OECD. That spending doesn’t translate into better results or smaller class sizes, however. Only 47 percent of Mexican children graduate from the equivalent of high school and Mexico also has the OECD’s highest student-to-teacher ratio — 25 pupils to every teacher, on average.

Among the benefits ended by the educational reform are payments of more than $100 million a year by some estimates to thousands of teachers who work full-time as union organizers and rarely, if ever, set foot inside a classroom. Education reform groups have found some union representatives earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per semester.

Peña’s reforms, which aimed to break the unions’ chokehold over the education system by linking teacher positions to test scores, were watered down somewhat in an effort to ensure the bill’s passage. Teachers will still be difficult to dismiss, teacher assessments will not be rolled out for two years, and even then poor performers will retain a number of job protections. Nonetheless, this is still a big step forward and should go a long way toward rooting out corruption among teachers.

The question now is whether Peña can continue this success with the rest of his reform agenda, most notably his efforts to privatize Mexico’s state-run energy companies.

[Image of President Nieto at 2010 WEF courtesy of the World Economic Forum]

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