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Mexican Government Suspends Teacher Evaluations Amid Protests, Strike

Guest post by Anthony Rebora

Updated.

Some international news of interest: Members of a radical wing of Mexico's national teachers' union went on an indefinite strike this week in an attempt to block President Enrique Peña Nieto's education overhaul package, according to news reports.

The strike disrupted classes for millions of students as the country heads towards national midterm elections on Sunday, June 7, which the dissident teachers' group—known as the National Coordination of Educational Workers, or CNTE—has called on voters to boycott. 

Members of the group have reportedly vandalized and blockaded electoral offices in the southern part of the country, most visibly in the state of Oaxaca. Thousands of teachers have also participated in protest marches in Mexico City.

Last week, apparently bowing to pressure from the group, Mexico's government announced that it would suspend plans to implement teacher evaluations in schools, a key part of Peña Nieto's education plan.

According to the Associated Press, the CNTE, which has its strongest representation in the country's poorest states, has argued that the competitive teaching tests used for the evaluations do not effectively measure instructional skills, especially in the "special knowledge needed to teach in Indian and rural areas."

The suspension of the evaluation system was widely seen as a "humiliating setback" for Peña Nieto, according to a Wall Street Journal report, even as some observers suggested that the government will reinstitute the evaluations after the elections are carried out. McClatchy Foreign Staff reports that a coalition of think tanks and advocacy groups has signed a statement saying the government's move is tantamount to allowing "education in Mexico to be subject to blackmail."

The CNTE, meanwhile, vowed to continue its protests until the rest of the education overhaul package is scrapped. 

Enacted in 2013, the education legislation was the first in a series of reforms launched by Peña Nieto's administration to modernize "long protected" public industries, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The country's school system, the CSM documents, was seen as particularly ripe for change:

Mexico spends one of the highest percentages of its budget on education among industrialized countries, but test results reflect poorly on its investment. Less than 40 percent of adults (ages 25-64) have graduated from high school, almost half the average among Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries. And Mexico regularly ranks in the bottom third in reading comprehension, math, and science in the Program for International Student Assessment, an international gauge for student performance.

In addition to teacher evaluations, Peña Nieto's education law includes provisions for teacher performance pay and promotion, tests for new teachers, and greater government oversight of schools. The WSJ notes it also bans "common practices like inheriting a teacher position or buying and selling the posts."

The CNTE reportedly contends, however, that the law violates teachers' labor rights and aims to privatize the education system. According to McClatchy, the teachers also want higher pay.   

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