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Cablegate: Poor Test Results Starts Teachers, Union On Slow

VZCZCXRO1831
RR RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHMT RUEHNG RUEHNL
RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHME #2877/01 2691858
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251858Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3368
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF EDUCATION WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MEXICO 002877

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/AWH, AND ILSCR, WHA/MEX, USDOL FOR ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON EFIN PGOV SOCI PINR MX
SUBJECT: POOR TEST RESULTS STARTS TEACHERS, UNION ON SLOW
ROAD TO CHANGE

REF: MEXICO 1540


1. Summary: This past May Mexico,s Secretary of Public
Education (SEP) and the National Teachers Union (SNTE) signed
an agreement called the &Alliance for Quality Education.8
One of the main elements of this agreement stipulated that
applicants for teaching positions in Mexico,s public schools
would have to pass an exam to prove their qualifications
before being hired. On August 11, the first ever national
exam was given to determine the qualifications of over 71,000
aspiring teachers. To the surprise of many and the shock of
the general public a full 68 percent of those who took the
exam failed. The exam was also given to over 17,500 teachers
who had been hired but not yet given tenured positions. Only
7,150 of these untenured teachers passed the exam. The
quality of public education in Mexico has long been
criticized for a variety of reasons. Much of this criticism
has focused on a teachers union that was over politicized and
whose members were under prepared to actually teach.
Following the announcement of the poor exam results the SEP
and the SNTE announced plans to work together to retrain and
re-test Mexico,s public school teachers. Mexico,s National
Teachers Union is the largest single labor organization in
Latin American with an estimated 1.5 million members. It is
hoped that the re-training program the SEP and (in principal)
the SNTE plan to implement will result in a more
professionalized core of public school teachers in
approximately seven years. End Summary


MEXICO,S NATIONAL TEACHERS, UNION
---------------------------------

2. Mexico,s National Teacher Union (SNTE) is the larger of
the country,s two education workers unions. The SNTE is
estimated to have roughly 1.5 million members and is widely
recognized as being the largest single labor union in Latin
America. The SNTE is headed by its national President, Elba
Ester Gordillo Morales; a controversial figure often accused
of being more interested in furthering the interests of a
corrupt union than in dealing with the many problems facing
Mexico,s public school system. Gordillo is often referred
to as either &Elba Ester8 or more often than not simply as
&the Teacher8. She is an extremely powerful union leader
whose influence extends far beyond the realms of either
education or organized labor.

3. One of the many criticisms leveled at Gordillo is that
she has over politicized the SNTE and done nothing to halt,
much less reverse, blatant corruption in the union. (Comment:
The SNTE has been accused of such things as buying and
selling teaching positions, misuse of union funds, demanding
sexual favors in order to be hired or tenured to mention just
some of its alleged transgressions.) No objective observer
could deny that the SNTE is a very political union but, to be
fair to &the Teacher8, it was a highly politicized
organization before she became its leader. It would probably
be more accurate to say that she adroitly took full advantage
of a pre-existing situation that many say allowed her and her
supporters within the SNTE to amass considerable wealth and
political power. The undeniable rise in her personal wealth
and political power notwithstanding and despite widespread
comments to the contrary, &the Teacher8 rarely fails to
maintain a hands-on approach to education related issues in
Mexico. Consequently, it was not particularly surprising
when, in her capacity as the SNTE President, she entered into
a potentially significant new agreement with the Mexican
Government,s Secretary of Public Education (SEP) this past
May.


AN AGREEMENT FOR BETTER TEACHERS
--------------------------------

4. On May 15, 2008, &Teachers Day8, Mexican President
Felipe Calderon unveiled an &Alliance for Quality
Education8 (REF) between his government,s SEP and the SNTE.
The stated aim of the alliance was to improve the quality of
Mexican public education, school infrastructure and teachers'
skills based on five elements: (1) modernization of schools,
(2) renewal of teachers' selection and promotion processes,
(3) implementation of scholarships and nutritional programs,

MEXICO 00002877 002 OF 003


(4) curriculum reform, (5) and improvement of the national
education system for teachers and students. Although it was
not particularly noted at the time, the most far reaching of
these elements may be the one concerning teacher selection
and promotion.

5. In their discussions on how to implement the various
elements of the Alliance the SEP and the SNTE committed
themselves to hiring new teachers based on the results of
public national competitions (exams) and also to tenure and
promote based on professional merit. The SNTE/SEP agreement
called for the first of these exams (a &National Exam of
Teaching Abilities and Competencies8) to be held in August,
prior to the start of the new school year. To their credit,
the SNTE and SEP worked cooperatively together to develop
this first of its type exam ever given in Mexico, organized
the administration of the exam and then, as promised,
arranged for nearly 90,000 people to take it before the start
of the school year. The SEP and the SNTE were justifiably
pleased with their accomplishment; but only for a short
while.


EXAM RESULTS GET POSTED
-----------------------

6. The SEP and SNTE moved very quickly to grade and then
make available to the public in as transparent a process as
possible the results of this exam to determine which
aspirants met the qualification for employment as a public
school teacher. Some 71,000 candidates for a much smaller
number of teaching positions signed up for and took the exam.
In theory, all of these aspirants had successfully graduated
from one of the many &Normal8 schools that Mexico has used
to train new teachers for at least the past 70 years.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the results of the exam came
as an extremely unpleasant surprise. Fully 68 percent of all
those taking the exam failed. Not only that, but an
additional 17,648 previously hired but as yet untenured
teachers also took the exam and all but 7,150 of them failed
the test as well.

7. The public reaction to these shocking exam results was
quick and sharp. Parents associations, the press and a broad
range of education activists were shocked and appalled that
so many aspiring teachers, who had presumably graduated with
some form of degree in education, had failed their entrance
exams. The press and the general public were particularly
outraged to learn that the SEP had no immediate plans to
terminate the employment of the untenured teachers who had
already started working in the public school systems and who
were scheduled to be placed in classes teaching students at
the start of the current school year. The states that had
the highest percentages of perspective teachers who failed to
pass the exam were Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Sonora, Edomex
(Mexico State) and Baja California.

8. Sharp criticism from almost all sides was leveled at the
SNTE who immediately pointed its collective finger at the
SEP. A convincing case could be made for the criticism
leveled at the SNTE and for the union,s accusations against
the SEP. Alas for the union, because of its already poor
image and that of its national leader, &the Teacher8, few
(if any) in the Mexican public were inclined to give it the
benefit of the doubt.


WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
------------------

9. Faced with a situation in which nearly two-thirds of the
applicants for public school teaching positions where
demonstrably shown to be unqualified the SEP had to decide
what to do next. Given the fanfare with which the GOM
unveiled the &Alliance for Quality Education8 its options
regarding what to do about the job seekers who had failed to
pass the exam were extremely limited. The SEP committed
itself to only hiring teachers based on the results of a
public and transparent exam process and so far it is holding
firm to that commitment. Several days after the release of
the exam results the SEP declared that no one who had failed
it would be offered a teaching position. Moreover, the SEP
stated that those who failed the exam would not be allowed to

MEXICO 00002877 003 OF 003


retake it again this year. (Comment: Post notes that thus
far the SEP has not commented publicly about what it intends
to do with the thousands of hired but untenured teachers who
failed to pass the exam.)

10. Although the SEP declared that the applicants for
teaching positions who failed to pass the exam would not be
allowed to retake it again this year it did indicate that
they could be retested again next year. It also acknowledged
that the results of the exam would tend to indicate that many
teachers who have been hired and tenured in recent years were
probably not the best-qualified applicants. Consequently,
the SEP is planning to institute a training program that will
allow currently employed teachers to upgrade their job
knowledge and skills. The SEP believes that it can train (or
re-train as the case may be) upwards of 150,000 teachers per
year of the estimated 1.5 million person employed as
instructors in Mexico,s public schools. At that rate the
SEP hopes that once normal retirement, job changers and new
hires (who have passed the exam) are taken into account, its
efforts will result in a more professionalized core of public
school teachers in approximately seven years.


COMMENT
-------

11. No matter how one looks at it the fact that nearly 70
percent of the persons seeking teaching positions, as public
school teachers could not pass what was essentially an
entrance exam was an embarrassment for all concerned. It is
noteworthy that the SNTE did not dispute the disappointing
results of the exam. Perhaps this was because the union
itself helped developed the exam. The SNTE,s quiet
acquiescence to the exam results may also be attributable to
the fact that the vast majority of those who failed it were
individuals applying to become public school teachers and
were not yet actual members of the profession and by
extension members of the National Teachers Union. There are
many SNTE members at the state level all across Mexico who
are not happy with the changes they see coming, like the
exam, as a result of the &Alliance for Quality Education8
which will alter the way things have traditionally been done
in the National Teachers Union. The degree of state level
discontent is large and it appears to be growing but so far
the national leadership of the SNTE, and that includes &the
Teacher8, has done nothing to encourage this discontent or
to back away from the agreement they made with the GOM. If
the SNTE leadership continues to live up to its commitment to
the Alliance this may well be the beginning of at least some
level of positive change in the National Teacher Union and in
Mexico,s public school system.
Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
GARZA

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