Would you buy a new clock before you knew whether or not it was simply the batteries that needed changing? Probably not. In essence, that is what Mexican presidential nominee and leading candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is promising to do to education reform in Mexico. Obrador intends to dismantle the controversial, yet necessary reform policy only five years after its implementation and before accurate data of its effectiveness is available.
Prior to the implementation of the new reform policy, what was inarguably broken was the teacher hiring and accountability system that led for the need for reform in the first place. Before the new policy, teachers were solely hired by their corrupt union (their leader Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested for embezzling millions), teachers could sell off their teaching positions (some even sold through the classified sections in newspapers), and teachers could pass on their positions to relatives (a la inheritance). The new policy ensures that teachers are highly qualified through accountability tests and that promotion is based solely on merit.
Since its implementation in 2013, many in the education department have been quoted saying that they are starting to see a dramatic increase in teacher quality. Some data might become available in 2019 with the administering of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. However, as an article in The Economist states, “It will be a decade before students taking the exam will have been taught mainly by instructors hired on merit.” In other words, it needs time.
Even in the United States where educational politics are always a hot topic, evidence shows that education reform and debate leads to results. As shown on the “Nation’s Report Card” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), compared to the 1990s, the United States has shown steady increase in scores in both mathematics and reading. Simply looking at the fact that 42 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards has been a big win for education reform in our country. Additionally, though the tension between public and charter schools increases, I firmly believe that the students will benefit the most as we see each sector investing more and more resources in teacher development. Reform does not happen overnight, but progress can be made quickly.
It is well-documented that many teachers in Mexico were infuriated with the new policy. Personal experience tells me that it is usually the bad teachers that hate being evaluated the most. Through my 14 years in the world of education and six years teaching in every sector (private, charter, and public), I can comfortably attest that teacher accountability leads to increased student performance. It is largely from teacher evaluations that I have seen myself personally grow as an educator, and my students have benefited the most from those assessments of my work. In my view, there is no other profession that I can think of where anyone would argue against the hiring and promotion based on merit.
It is clear that improving teacher quality is just a piece of the puzzle in educational reform. However, a common practice around educational reform seems to be a pattern of blame and very little ownership. For example, some educators argue that it is the lack of funding that is the real culprit or the lack of appropriate resources, etc. Though it is true that to completely transform education in any country, there must be a comprehensive approach to reform. Beginning with teacher effectiveness, the number factors of what determines student performance is a good place to start.
Mexico must be careful to not go down a rabbit hole of stagnation. Too many times, politicians have used education as leverage for political gains only to the detriment of the students themselves. It is clear that educational reform in Mexico is multifaceted. Like in the U.S., school funding should increase and teachers must be armed with better materials and resources. However, the reform passed in 2013 has addressed some of the biggest issues plaguing education in Mexico for decades: corruption at the union level and raising accountability for teachers. Might there be elements of the reform that need to be altered? Sure. Is it possible that the test used to evaluate teachers might need to be revisited? Perhaps. What is certain, nonetheless, is that the policy in place needs more time and data in order to be properly assessed. After all, if it is not broke, don’t fix it.
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