The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Mexico’s New President Takes on Powerful Teacher Lobby

The U.S. is not the only country in the Western Hemisphere whose politicians are pushing back against powerful teacher lobbies: Mexico’s newly installed President Enrique Peña Nieto, just days after releasing an ambitious reform agenda that aims to dislodge nearly all of Mexico’s entrenched industries, unveiled a plan to eviscerate Mexico’s powerful teacher lobby and transform the country’s education system. Reuters reports:

“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.” . . .

“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.”

Mexican teachers enjoy some extraordinary perks. Some jobs are hereditary, passed from mother to daughter and father to son regardless of qualifications. They are well-paid, with 80 percent of non-capital education spending going to salaries. One teacher in Chihuahua, the Economist found, was earning $66,000 each month.

Taking on the powerful teacher lobby, led by the formidable Elba Esther Gordillo, won’t be easy. With 1.2 million members, Mexico’s teachers’ union is Latin America’s largest. Gordillo “turns politicians into timid schoolboys,” says the Economist. Every attempt to reform Mexico’s education system has been watered down or totally resisted by Gordillo and her army.

But Mexico’s students need better teachers. Mexico’s school system is dead last in reading and math proficiency among OECD countries. President Peña Nieto might not have the mandate or the power to push his reforms through, but, as in the U.S., the time for change is past due.

Published on December 18, 2012 2:54 pm