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Marco Fernandez

Interview with Ph.D student, Marco Antonio Fernandez Martinez on April 13, 2012. This interview helped to shape my overall perception of this research. Mr. Fernandez worked for President Calderon and the SEP. He realizes that the issue goes beyond on individual. The problem in Mexico is the structure, and that is something that cannot be changed overnight. There are multiple perpetrators in the education battle: Elba Esther Gordillo, the President, the SEP and teachers. From his point of view, I was able to better focus my policy recommendation: Carrera Magisterial. Carrera Magisterial, according to Mr. Fernandez, has allowed SNTE to promote its teachers without merit. The issue is the teaching field is not competitive, not based on supply and demand. Anyone who wants to be a teacher and can pay, will do it. Without good teachers, the country will not produce good students. Without good students, Mexico will continue to be ranked at the bottom of the OECD countries.
  1. How was the SNTE evolved from its creation in 1949? How has the movement changed after Elba Esther Gordillo took power?
  2. What is the purpose of the SNTE?
  3. Who are the key players in the movement?
  4. Who are the key players in education decisions in Mexico?
  5. How did the education law of 1993 influence the SNTE?
  6. Has the SNTE benefitted from the decentralization of education?
  7. What government qualities/culture qualities allow the SNTE to engage in corruption?
  8. Can you tell me a little bit more about the path to becoming a teacher in Mexico?
  9. Does every teacher join SNTE? What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages?
  10. Has the education quality deteriorated since Elba Esther Gordillo took power?
  11. How does the public react to the SNTE?
  12. Is there an arena where parents/the public can voice their opinion about education quality?
  13. Does Mexico publish education results? Or most results based on PISA test?
  14. What are the union’s reasons for vetoing curriculum changes or teacher evaluations?
  15. Is there a transparency issue (or is education not the country’s main priority)?
  16. How does the teacher union embody the idea of clientelism? How has the SNTE’s behavior changed after the change in political party? With each president?

Notes from my interview:

-SNTE was a close ally to the PRI. During the PRI administration, SNTE was successful in mobilizing voters. In return, the SNTE acquired more benefits.

-Education decentralization occurred in 1993. SNTE was an opponent of decentralization but in the end, it was the biggest winner of this system reform. The union’s fear was that it would breakdown the group into smaller unions-kept the monopoly power over all teachers in Mexico. Decentralization was implemented by the PRI part with the intention of reducing the union’s power. As a result of decentralization, the education budget is as follows:

80% comes from Federal government

20% comes from state government.


However, the allocations are considered conditional transfer. The federal government distributes funds based on need, but does not have the legal mechanisms to research the path of delivery. In other words, no one knows where the money goes! Mexico is the country in the OECD that spends the most gdp/per capita on education funding, but the funds are not properly distributed.

-Common misconception: teachers are poorly paid. The problem is not the budget, but the management of its budget.

– The competition between the PRI and PAN helped the SNTE. SNTE diversified voters, allowing more deals between politicians (for votes). The result? The creation of the Teacher’s Party.

-Standardized testing began in the 1990s but the government did not publish the results.

-President Vicente Fox implemented ENLACE, standardized testing at the state level.

-The states with the most members, such as Michoacan, Chiapas, and Oaxaca, experienced the most opposition of ENLACE testing.


Why is the union so powerful?

1. Asymmetrical information

-After the “transfer” of information to the state level, Mexico has experienced a high level of distrust among government agencies, especially when there is a difference in political power. The SNTE plays the role of  “mediator” between the federal and state education agencies.

2. Disruptive behavior

-The way to extract resources is through strikes. Strikes are effective because they cause a disruption in every day activities and parents will be angered. What will parents do with their children at home?

3. Size

-Teachers are everywhere!

-Union members are active-they seek authority positions, within the union and within the federal government.

-members pay 1% of teacher salary to union, which is about $10 million dollars a month.

4. Point system: the union created a point system contigent on attendance and participation in union activities.

-If you rebel, you cannot apply for housing credit and will get transferred to a school far away.



  1. Teachers are well respected.
  2. Public satisfaction with the education system/education quality is not consistent with the concrete results. Parents and students are happy with the Mexican education system!


Education Quality

Education quality begins with quality of teachers. Teachers are not well-educated! To become a teacher, one must enroll in a teacher-training college. Teacher colleges are the source of corruption; a student can pay their way through the system and place out of testing. Even if the students are tested, the results are neglected. The mentality at this point is “take the least worst.” The fact that potential teachers are not able to pass the tests signals a problem with grade inflation. The individuals who graduate from teacher-training colleges have the highest GPAs, yet they cannot pass simple math and reading tests. Consequence of PRI administration: all teachers are guaranteed a job if they graduate from teacher colleges

 Interesting: an individual who graduates from a top university with excellent GPA and is passes the test will have a hard time finding a teaching post.


The students who enroll in teacher colleges view teaching as a right. Competition, based on merit, does not exist when applying for teaching posts. In order to obtain a teaching position, it depends on the connections the individual has or the amount of money they are able to pay for a teaching post.

Interesting:  If a teacher dies, control if his/her teaching posts belongs to the spouse. The spouse can decide will down post to children or to sell the position.


Inside the union: teachers are tired of leadership, but benefit greatly from the manipulation of the its leader. Benefits:

-more paid holidays

-bonuses, from the federal and state level (two rounds of negotiation)

-teachers do not pay taxes on bonuses in some states (the gov’t does)

-Orthopedic insurance

-Dental insurance

-short school days: 7:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

-housing program (Viviendas)


Arguments: need more teachers to create smaller classes and increase learning. There is no evidence that smaller, learning environments result in better education. Hiring more teachers is the justification for a greater budget.

Finland: small class size

South Korea: very large class size

When results are poor, the union blames it on the infrastructure, lack of school supplies, building maintenance. NO ACCOUNTABILITY

The problem is not an individual, but rather the structure. Removing Elba Esther Gordilla will not reduce power. The problem lies within the organization of the different levels of the education agencies.

 Possible Solutions?

  1. Charter schools: Mexico needs a public option that competes with the other public option.
  2. Transparency at the school level: parents should know the budget, teacher salaries. This increases the cost of corruption and prompts accountability. In addition, this will help to change public knowledge/opinion, pressuring politicians to take action.
  3. External mechanism to evaluate teachers: the evaluation agencies include members of the SNTE.



Fernandez Martinez, Marco Andres. Interview by author. April 13, 2012.


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