Monday, May 13, 2013

What About the Ninos?

If you thought teachers unions in America were a problem, they’re nothing compared to their colleagues south of the border. In today’s WSJ, Mary Anastasia O-Grady explains how would be teachers are holding the state hostage (literally):

Mexican students studying to be teachers released a hostage on Wednesday—in the municipality of Nahuatzen—due to concerns about his health. But they continue to hold five others. The students are supported by the Michoacán State Teachers Organization, which warned that the remaining captives, who are state policemen, would be freed only when a demand for 1,200 new teaching jobs is met.

The Mexican standoff, now a week old, is only the latest example of a teacher-union rebellion against recent amendments to the Mexican constitution aimed at improving public education.

Institutional Revolutionary Party President Enrique Peña Nieto has made it a priority to fix the broken public-education system. But eager reformers are often tested by politically powerful interests in their first year in office. The teachers believe they can make him back down.

Over the 71 consecutive years that the PRI ruled Mexico until 2000, it earned a reputation for heavy-handedness bordering on repression. Now that it is finally back in power, there is pressure on Mr. Peña Nieto to show that his party is kinder and gentler. This may tempt him to tolerate union violence. But the recent constitutional amendments increase transparency and accountability and depoliticize education. This is the change the PRI needs to show the public it supports.

It's easy to see why teachers are up in arms over the amendments. For the first time ever they will be vetted in a comprehensive process that includes proficiency exams. Lifetime tenure will no longer be guaranteed from the day a teacher graduates from a teaching college. Teachers will not be allowed to pass their tenured posts to relatives, the prevalent practice of selling a teaching post will be outlawed, and promotions will require evaluation. In short, teaching is to be like a real job, where performance matters.

Accountability is a foreign concept for many who go into teaching, which explains why teaching students are part of the rebellion. In April, violence broke out in Chilpancingo, the state capital of Guerrero, when the state legislature refused a request by activists to reject the new evaluation process. Union thugs vandalized property. They also blocked the highway that runs from Mexico City, through Chilpancingo, to Acapulco, with serious economic consequences. Most teachers unions at least pretend to care about their students. Many striking teachers in Mexico just walked off the job, leaving children and parents in the lurch.

Drug cartels, state controlled industries, and corrupt government officials aren’t the only groups holding Mexico back from realizing its potential promise.