Under la maestra’s thumb

Mexico’s schools are controlled completely by the teachers’ union, reports The Economist. Elba Esther Gordilla, the union president known as la maestra, is one of the most powerful politicians in the country. She is a force for the status quo, writes The Economist.

Mexico spends a relatively large percentage of its GDP on education with poor results.

The problem is how the system is organised. Teachers, including school heads, are accountable to union leaders, not to the education ministry or parents. Teacher evaluation exists in name but not in practice. A significant slice of education spending goes straight to the union. Some 30,000 union officials are on the payroll as teachers; they never set foot in a classroom although there is a teacher shortage in some schools. In 2006, an election year, 750m pesos ($70m) was transferred from the ministry to the union, a threefold rise over the 250m pesos in transfers in 2005, according to Aldo Muñoz, a political scientist at the Iberoamerican University.

. . . La maestra “negotiates directly with the president,” says Eduardo Andere, a professor at ITAM, another Mexico City university. The deputy minister in charge of basic education, Fernando González, is Ms Gordillo’s son-in-law.

President Felipe Calderon is more of a reformer than Fox, The Economist writes. But Calderon owes power to la maestra.

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