Mexican President Peña Nieto indefinitely suspended his plan to introduce standardized teacher evaluations. Teachers and unions, sensing a weakening of his stance, went on a massive strike opposing more proposals of the president’s education reform agenda.
Civil society groups opposed the president’s concession, calling his retreat an unconstitutional betrayal of his previous pledge to regain control of education and root out union corruption.
Dissident educators who protested for the halt of the education reform and for higher pay went on strike June 2 even though the Mexican president announced the abandonment of evaluation measures the previous Friday. Millions of students in the states of Oaxaca, Michoacán, Guerrero and Chiapas were left without classes as a result.
The retreat on education reform occurred a few days before the mid-term elections scheduled for June 7. During the strike, radical union teachers ransacked the National Electoral Institute offices in southern Mexico, burned thousands of ballot papers and seized a state-run oil facility.
The strike was fueled by a weakening of the President’s stance on the education reform as a whole. Teacher evaluations, which had been approved by the Congress two years ago, were indefinitely suspended on May 29th by the Ministry of Education.
The teacher evaluation proposal had been the cornerstone of President’s Nieto’s reform agenda. Teachers and unions feared that if the reform passed it would mean less control over their rights and that it would result in the uncontrolled mass firing of teachers.
“The evaluations are punitive,” Juan Carlos Lopez, primary school teacher said. “It’s a justification to fire teachers on a massive scale.”
President Nieto’s education reforms included evaluation for teachers and regulations that promotions were to be based on seniority level and merit. The agenda also presented the centralization of payroll to reduce featherbedding. According to the National Statistics Institute, in 2014 more than 39,000 teachers were on payroll but not actually working.
Civil society groups protesting the president’s withdrawal said in a shared statement:
“We regret that with this action, the federal government boycotts the implementation of the education reform. We demand that President Enrique Peña Nieto reverse this announcement and not allow education in Mexico to be subject to blackmail and used as a political bargaining chip.”
Mexico, an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country is among the lowest ranking nations despite its relatively high education spend per student. Mexico is ranked 118th out of 144 countries in terms of primary education quality and is superseded by countries such as El Salvador and Bolivia.
Opponents of the reforms argue that less well-off teachers do not have the financial resources to meet the performance standards delineated in the reform agenda. On the other hand, proponents believe stronger evaluations are imperative to improve teacher performance and to eliminate union corruption.