Spain's Controversial Educational Reform: Will the Green Tide Wash It Away?

Article excerpt

The Spanish government approved Friday a broad educational reform emphasizing standardized tests combined with reduced spending that it says will reduce one of Europe's highest secondary school dropout rates -- and decrease the number of students being held back each year.

"It's one of the most important reforms" of the conservative Popular Party government," Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said during a press conference. A quarter of Spanish students drop out of school before graduating and 40 percent of students are held back, costing the state 2.5 billion euro ($3.2 billion) a year.

Most Spaniards are alarmed at the deteriorating state of Spain's education system, which, coupled with 57 percent unemployment among those 25 years and younger, is considered here to be a long term economic disaster for Spain.

But many, including a majority of students, teachers, and parents, strongly oppose the education bill because they say it will only worsen, not improve education. Tens of thousands marched last week in more than 30 cities - the latest of several massive demonstrations against the government's policies in education - to demand the withdrawal of the bill approved today.

Green Tide

The reform is being imposed by the government despite the opposition of all other political parties and semi-autonomous regional governments, and is sure to be approved by the PP- controlled parliament this fall in order to implement it in 2014's school year.

In essence, it seeks to more closely monitor students through further standardized tests, to condition schools' funds based on success in decreasing dropout rates, and to more efficiently redirect students toward academic or technical careers. Critics say one of the effects of reforms is to discriminate against underprivileged students.

The underlying problem, though, lies in the severe spending cuts, argues the rebellious education sector, now nicknamed the Green Tide for their ability to summon tens of thousands of green-shirted marchers.

Since 2009, Spain has trimmed more than 6.7 billion euros ($8.6 billion) from its education spending and expects more cuts into the future, decreasing investment from a high of 5 percent of the gross domestic product in 2010 to 4 percent of GDP by 2015. …