Historically Mexico’s education has been centralized and mainly concerned with primary education coverage. Even when the education system was first decentralized in 1993, in practice “decentralization” became no more than a nomenclature. The Federal government’s Ministry of Public Education (SEP), in conjunction with the national Congress, is the source of all programs, courses, education models and policies. These policies are later implemented through the state level agencies, leaving little room for input from the states, or a productive process of feedback. I maintain that centralization has adversely affected both the making of effective education policy and the management of education from Mexico City to all corners of the country.
The distance between policymakers and all other components of the education system at the state and school levels has always obstructed effective policy execution. This “distance education system” is based on minimal communication between the different levels of government (Gutierrez, 2013).
The federal management of education by conveying that education is a government only matter; has prevented the development of a broader awareness of education in Mexico. This has led to the notion that education should always be planned and administered by the government and centralized with little input from the true stakeholders –parents, teachers, students, school leadership. Furthermore, this notion is detrimental to education due to the lack of meaningful consequences for teachers and policymakers; although education is a high-stakes game for children, the economy and the nation, the education system involves relatively low-stakes for those directly involved in the process. The current education system lacks an effective accountability system.
The education authority fails to communicate to parents and teachers the importance of results and the outcomes of educational evaluation. The authorities in Mexico operate as if education were only a political-government issue, failing to recognize that education is, in fact, a social concern. As such, education decision-making should incorporate all other stakeholders in the policy process.
The education system in Mexico also fails to answer typical accountability questions: What do we expect students to know? What do we expect students to be able to do? How satisfied are we with current achievement? How well prepared are teachers in order to be effective in their classrooms? How and to what extent is the public informed of the results? Is the public informed of what generates those results? How does society react to the information they receive about school performance?
The absence of answers to these questions or even, the absence of the questions themselves can be attributed to the central role of government in Mexico’s education system, and the organizational distance between the educational authority and classroom activities. This stands in marked contrast with countries like United States, Canada and some Latin American Countries like Chile and Costa Rica, where local input plays a key role in bringing the classroom closer to policymakers and education authorities.
One way to effectively close the gap between education authority and the classroom is simplifying the organizational structure in the education system (effectively reducing hierarchical levels). Research shows at least 15 identifiable levels between the Education Secretary –at the federal level- and teachers in the classroom (SEP, 2014). On top of geographical distance, organizational distance contributes to the complexity of the centralized education system. State level education agencies often underplay their institutional roles, which in effect, results in poor consistency of application of the education policies and academic programs.
Bringing federal authorities closer to the classroom would simplify the SEP’s functions by modifying its role to only three organizational levels: Secretary, Undersecretary and Departmental Director. This would be followed at the state level by: State Level Secretary, Education Management and the Superintendent, and finally at the local level by the School Principal and the teachers. Such decentralization would reduce the chain of command of the education system to 8 levels, as opposed to the 15 that exist today.
All other areas unrelated to administration –management-, such as academic planning would be set aside from the organizational chart, and assigned directly to the state level Secretary himself, his/her cabinet, in conjunction with the INEE, as this would be in direct connection with evaluation and program design. Changes in academic programs and curricula would be a direct responsibility of the academic planning department. And program inception, implementation and evaluation would be a shared responsibility with the education management department at the state level. This in effect, is a horizontal education system, relieved of many of the current bureaucratic constraints that prevent effective implementation. The visualization of the comparison between the current organizational structure and the proposed structure is shown in the following figure.
Educational authorities are currently too far removed from the classroom. There is no precise methodology to supervise what goes on inside the classroom of the more than 273,000 schools every day, and the administrative protocols manage poorly the flow of the information back to Mexico City. It may be by design that Parents are distant from the classroom (see New education Policy: Bring in the Parents) and cannot be expected to give any meaningful feedback that would ensure accountability in the education system, but it is time to close the distance between the education system and its beneficiaries. It is time to know what really goes on the classrooms.
The education series is an initiative led by Gildardo Gutierrez in partnership with the Mexico Institute. The series will examine a set of initiatives that aim to transform the education system and that intend to bring innovation to the industry. New management approaches, school district implementation, regional education authorities, fostering new academic programs and parent involvement in Mexico.
Gildardo Gutierrez has founded education institutions in Mexico and the United States. He serves in the Board of Trustees of the National Hispanic Institute and other education organizations. He actively promotes international education agreements. He is also a regular guest in Telemundo and Univision for education topics. In 2013 Gildardo published the book “Futuro Educativo: Distritos”.
Gildardo is currently researching on education at the McCourt School of Public Policy in Georgetown University. He also serves as President for the Mexican Business Council in Washington DC. (Asociacion de Empresarios Mexicanos).