Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Corruption, Teachers Union Loom over Election for President in Mexico

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Corruption, Teachers Union Loom over Election for President in Mexico

Article excerpt

MEXICO CITY -- When he was elected president six years ago, Felipe Calderon appointed a bright and energetic political operator to fix the country's wreck of a public education system, where teachers buy and sell their jobs and half the children drop out after junior high.

That politician was Josefina Vazquez Mota, who served as his loyal minister of education for 27 months -- before she was sacrificed by Mr. Calderon in an act of political expediency and crushed by her nemesis, Elba Esther Gordillo, the "president for life" of the national teachers union, one of the largest labor organizations in the world.

Ms. Vazquez Mota is running in the July 1 presidential election as the standard-bearer of Mr. Calderon's ruling party, the first viable female candidate in Mexico's modern history. But she is trailing, slipping to third place, according to the latest polls, still trying to convince voters that she and her center-right party will deliver real change.

Far removed from the media spotlight on the violence of the U.S.- backed war against the drug cartels in Mexico, the struggles of Mr. Calderon and Ms. Vazquez Mota to transform the nation's public education system show how a vision of a more modern Mexico continues to clash with an old Mexico beset by charges of corruption and cronyism.

In the past few days, teachers have been accused of stealing copies of a national exam in an effort to boost student scores. And teachers refusing to take exams to prove their basic competency abandoned their schools in protest, while Mr. Calderon proclaimed that "enough is enough" and pleaded with them to get back in the classroom.

"The education system is in deep crisis and is at risk of complete failure," said David Calderon (no relation to the president), leader of a reform group called Mexicanos Primero, or Mexicans First, which produced a documentary about the sad state of the schools called "De Panzazo," slang for "barely passing."

By most measures, Mexico's education system is an underachiever. The country is a member of the Group of 20 and boasts of the world's 14th-largest economy, but only a quarter of its children graduate from high school. …

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