Teaching Profession

In Mexico, Government-Teachers’ Union Clashes Become Deadly

By Emmanuel Felton — June 23, 2016 2 min read
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After deadly clashes between Mexican police and members of a dissident teachers’ union over the weekend, government and union officials have agreed to talks, according to the Associated Press.

Sunday’s violence, in which at least eight were killed and more than 100 were injured, are just the latest flashpoint in a long battle over revamping the nation’s teaching force, which some observers blame, at least in part, for the country’s dismal educational outcomes. The teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE, have been fighting a 2013 government law to evaluate teachers based on mandatory skills tests.

The violent protests, which broke out across the southern state of Oaxaca, followed the arrest of high-profile union leaders, who the government claims have been laundering money to finance protests and enrich themselves.

According to a Monday Associated Press report, police fired on the protestors and all of the dead were civilians, including two with ties to the CNTE. Scores of federal and state police officers were among the injured.

First-term Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected in 2012 on the promise of reforming several sectors of the Mexican economy and government, including the long-struggling education system.

Last June, in response to Peña Nieto’s education-overhaul plan, the CNTE went on an indefinite strike, keeping millions of students out of the classroom, during the days leading up to national congressional elections.

In addition to teacher evaluations, the plan includes provisions for teacher performance pay and promotion, tests for new teachers, and greater government oversight of schools. It also seeks to curb a long-entrenched practice of inheriting and selling teaching positions.

The CTNE, however, saw the law as part of a larger strategy to privatize the nation’s education system, something not unheard of in Latin America.

According to a 2015 Associated Press report, the CTNE, which is strongest in the poor and heavily indigenous states in the country’s south, complained that the teacher-evaluation tests were unfair and didn’t measure the “special knowledge needed to teach in Indian and rural areas.” CTNE officials say the government should instead be focusing on sending additional resources to poor, rural schools.

Amidst the strike, Peña Nieto’s administration announced that it would indefinitely suspend the planned teacher-evaluation system, a move which raised questions for some about its commitment to education reform. Shortly after the election, a federal judge reinstated the tests, which have been enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Photo: A federal police helicopter flies overhead as protesting teachers who were blocking a federal highway maintain their positions in the state of Oaxaca, near the town of Nochixtlan, Mexico on June 19. The teachers are protesting against plans to overhaul the country’s education system which include federally mandated teacher evaluations. At least 8 protesters have been confirmed killed. --Luis Alberto Cruz Hernandez/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.