Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mexican Education System Sucks ... But There's a Bigger Story about the Power of Public Sector Unions and the Government versus the Power of Individuals

We all know about the inadequacies of our U.S. educational system and our dysfunctional limited government as well. 

Sometimes, however, it's good to look at other countries and systems and simply reflect on why things are as they are in our own back yard.

Not to congratulate ourselves for not having as bad a system as others but to try to discern how to improve our own situation and system of self government.

Such an example comes from Mexico as described in Mexico Takes On Teachers Over School Control:

"MEXICO CITY—Mexico's Congress on Friday passed a sweeping overhaul to the country's dysfunctional educational system, marking a major victory for new President Enrique Peña Nieto but setting up a protracted conflict with the powerful teachers' union.

The bill, which passed 360-51, changes Mexico's Constitution to give the government, rather than the union, control over the hiring and firing of teachers, tackling a system where only union members can become teachers and where teachers hold guaranteed lifelong posts without ever being tested or measured for their performance.

Among other things, the bill creates a new independent body to periodically evaluate teachers, who could potentially be fired if they don't meet required standards. It also seeks to lengthen the school day to six to eight hours from a current average of just four—about half that of South Korea and Finland. . . .


The leader of the 1.4 million member teachers' union lashed out at the reform and pledged to lead a campaign of nonviolent protests as soon as public schools returned from the holiday break. The union "cannot support a measure that threatens our job security," said Elba Esther Gordillo, a powerful figure in Mexican politics who has run the union for the past 23 years, told reporters Thursday. . . .

During the past two decades, even as other big emerging markets like China, India and Brazil have taken off, Mexico's economy has mustered just 2.2% average annual growth, held back by a poor educational system, an inefficient economy riddled with monopolies, rising crime, a weak government tax take that leaves little money for things like highways, and a Byzantine legal system where only 2% of crimes are solved. . . .

Just one in three Mexicans graduates from high school, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Of Mexico's 99,400 primary schools, just 4,750 offer a full day of classes, with the rest offering students just four hours apiece, according to government statistics. Mexico ranks last in the 34-member OECD—a club of mostly developed nations—in test scores.

Many countries around the world grapple with powerful teacher unions, but Mexico's is legendary by almost any standard. The union, with its 1.4 million members, is the largest in Latin America, and makes up half of Mexico's government workers. Until a few years ago, teachers who retired would routinely give their lifelong post to a relative or sell it to a newcomer.

Even today, some states still let teachers sell their posts, which fetch between $4,700 to $11,800, according to the government.

Ms. Gordillo, the union boss, is famous for wearing luxury brands, flies in a private jet, and has amassed some 10 properties, including a $1.7 million home in San Diego that the union boss says belongs to her mother and other relatives.

"I live very well, and I'm no angel," the union leader told The Wall Street Journal in a 2003 interview. "But I've neither stolen nor killed." She wasn't available to comment for this article.

Having long used the collective voting power of teachers to extract concessions from different governments and political parties, Ms. Gordillo in 2005 founded a political party of her own called the New Alliance Party. The party has 10 congressmen in the lower house, a delegation led by Ms. Gordillo's grandson. Her daughter Mónica Arriola won a senate seat.

Some $150 million a year in taxpayer money goes to pay for 22,000 union posts, according to Mexicanos Primero. None of those union posts are occupied by active teachers. The union controls school curriculums, and all teacher appointments. Ms. Gordillo's son-in-law Fernando González was deputy education minister under former President Felipe Calderón.

Héctor Aguilar Camín, one of Mexico's leading intellectuals, described the reform as an effort to stop the "colonization" of the country's educational system by the union. "The strength and presence of the union makes any improvements in education impossible," he said. "This first step—cutting back on the power of the union, and establishing evaluation with consequences for teachers—is the right thing to do.". . .

Mr. Grayson said that by choosing Ms. Gordillo and her union, "the toughest dinosaur in the country" to attack, Mr. Peña Nieto would set the tone for his six year administration. Mr. Grayson said he believed Mr. Peña Nieto would be successful in his offensive against Ms. Gordillo because the union leader is isolated from other political parties and widely discredited with the Mexican public."

Summing Up

Who's in charge --- individuals or the system?

And if it's the system that's in charge, who's in charge of the system --- duly elected (or duly appointed) representatives of We the People or the unions?

With respect to education, is it (1) the parents, (2) the teachers' unions, (3) the elected officials or (4) the duly appointed school administrators?

And whatever the case, why is that the way it's done? Because it's best for the people or because it's best for the teachers' union leadership?

Does giving each child the opportunity for a great education matter to the overall society? Should it?

Does giving the taxpayers good value for the money they spend on educating our youth matter to the overall society? Should it?

Does quality education delivered in a cost effective manner matter to the individual and overall prosperity of a society? Of course it does.

Why should unions have such a hold on any society and occupy a position of power in a nation's educational system?

Or for that matter, to the extent that its sole purpose isn't to better serve the interests of the larger society, why does the public sector exist?

We The People have the power to change what needs changing if we'll simply take charge.

Otherwise we'll get what we accept and never what we expect.

Expect versus accept. Higher aspirations versus lowest common denominator.

Yes, expect versus accept says it all. The choice is ours.

Thanks. Bob.

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