On Monday, after many weeks of protests and a walkout that shuttered schools all across the country, Mexico's public school teachers returned to work and children were welcomed back to their classrooms. Teachers have been on strike since the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year in an effort to reverse President Peña Nieto's sweeping education reforms, which would institute mandatory teacher evaluations and reduce union discretion in the hiring process. This would be a shock to an antiquated educational system in which some teachers simply inherit their jobs from their parents.

In a nutshell, the President's education reform is comprised of three new laws: the General Education Law, the National Institute for Educational Evaluation (INEE) Law and the Professional Teaching Service Law.

Mexico Education Reform Bill
Photo courtesy of banderasnews.com

The national education reform bill is seen as Peña Nieto's first major legislative victory since taking office. The new constitutional amendment effectively eliminates Mexico's decades-old practice of allowing the buying and selling of teaching jobs, and replaces it with a standardized national teaching test.

Beginning in July 2014, competitive exams will be administered for admission to elementary, middle school and high school teaching positions. Within the next three months, a calendar for job "auditions" and the evaluation processes will be issued.

Peña Nieto's new standardized system of test-based hiring and promotion is expected to give the government the teeth to break teachers unions' overwhelming control of school staffing and teacher placement. That control includes the corrupt sale and inheritance of teaching jobs, and has been widely blamed for much of the poor performance of Mexican schools, which rank the lowest among all the countries in the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

With these education reforms now passed into law, the teachers say they are simply trying to protect their rights and privileges as the government puts the changes into effect and reduces union control over teacher hiring and assignment. Strikes, protests and blockades disrupted daily life and commerce all across the country especially in urban capitals like Mexico DF. The main strength of this union is its tremendous ability to activate and mobilize supporters country-wide, to close schools and make life inconvenient in Mexico's economic, political and cultural centers.

The Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación(CNTE), the smaller of the country's two main teachers unions fears the new law will be used to fire or otherwise discipline teachers and permit the state to hire new teachers with less seniority, allowing the government to pay lower salaries.

Mexico Teachers Strike
Photo courtesy of popularresistance.org

CNTE, has about 250,000 members, most of them in Mexico's poor southern states. The CNTE was formed in 1979 as a movement to fight for labor democracy in the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), which was dominated by powerful union bosses who aligned themselves with Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The principal goal of CNTE, supporters say, is to protect members' jobs, many of which are handed down generation to generation or sold outright. Critics maintain that CNTE has turned into nothing more than an extortion machine using enormous protests as a way of wresting money and privileges from terrified state governments.

CNTE and its supporters argue that the problems in Mexico's educational system are primarily due to decades of massive government underfunding. Their claim is that evaluating teachers will not reverse inequality or stimulate social mobility, particularly in the poorer states like Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, where resources are scarce and teachers would suffer most heavily from the proposed reforms. Furthermore, the new regulations fail to differentiate between professionalization and teaching evaluation. The CNTE argues that a standardized test is an unfair evaluation a teacher's entire career, and suggests that parents and student evaluations and other factors should be taken into consideration. The Peña Nieto administration counters that teachers will have multiple chances to pass the test, and says failing teachers won't be fired, but re-assigned to positions outside the classroom. The bill implies that teachers who refuse to comply with the evaluation procedures will be terminated.

It is important to note that the larger teachers union, the 1.4-million strong Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), popularly thought to be in bed with the PRI party, has publicly supported Peña Nieto's reform bill.


Michele Kinnon
Michele Kinnon
and her husband Rob are the owners of BuyPlaya Real Estate Advisors and FurnitureMEX, both based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Michele is a member of Rotary Club of Playa del Carmen Seaside and participated on the founding committee for Taste of Playa, the Riviera Maya's largest and longest running culinary festival. She also blogs, writes local interest articles and administrates the Riviera Maya Events Calendar. Michele and Rob have lived in Playa del Carmen with their two children since 2004. Follow her updates on Google+.