To the Blog of Enlaces 2007, a language and cultural engagement class project from the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Future Research

Now that I have returned from our ENLACES trip it is time to get down to business...research that is! My paper will focus on studying teacher identity and retention in Mexico. This connects to what I am currently focusing on in my studies in the CLL Ph.D. Program. Briefly speaking, the issue of teacher retention is non-existant in Monterrey or Mexico overall. In my paper I will flush out the details of why this is so. My goal is to take the data gathered and use it to look closely at the teacher retention issue here in the U.S.

The main thing I learned was that you can not compare the U.S. and Mexico systems in relationship to this topic. Teacher preparation and teaccing approaches (methodology and pedagogy) are very different in these two countires. It is amazing that being so close to each other this great difference exists.

Overall, I realize that both systems have their pros and cons. One is not better then the other. Both take into cosnideration the needs and values of each of its sociteies. Both societeies can learn from one another!

Sorry, It Will Not Work for Us: The Social Factor When Comparing the Educational Systems of Mexico and United States


This paper will focus on a reflective comparison between social perceptiveness and expectations, politics, economics, and idiosyncratic differences that give shape to the educational systems of the two countries. Mexico’s schools are a product of their cultural and socioeconomic system, and when compared to United States schools we cannot ignore these factors. Although we may exchange pedagogic findings, researches, and in instances implement some methodologies, our society follows different educational patterns: While we encourage competitiveness, Mexican students learn cooperativeness. In United States, big corporate interests are the ones who determine the educational outcomes. The fact of the matter is we need to recognize what is feasible, or acquirable from the Mexican experience in terms of practicality, and in coherence with our socioeconomic structures. Instead of confining our observations into simplistic assumptions of any system being “better”, we must analyze what each country could learn from each other.

Preliminary Assumptions

Imagine walking into a small classroom overcrowded with over thirty-seven children, with limited instructional materials and books. School’s facilities are old and lack air conditioning, for a place where temperatures can reach over one hundred degrees in summer. The government does not fund schools; just cover teacher’s salaries. Operational budgets for primary and secondary schools come from parent’s donations. Teachers are not required to hold University degrees; instead, their training comes from an outdated but traditionalistic “Escuela Normal”, the school for aspiring educators. Graduates from a University cannot work at public school teachers. When inquired for teacher’s assistants, substitutes, aids, etc. they have none. At this point, we, coming from the College of Education of the University of Texas at San Antonio, in United States, are convinced of our unsurpassed advantage. Mexico’s public education budget for 2007 is 9,600 million of Mexican pesos (Observatorio, 2007), approximately $886,320,201 USD at today’s exchange rate, compared to $34,730,091,450 USD in the United States (U.S. Dept. of Ed., 2007). We Americans measure the quality of things by distinguishing its price. So a 34 billions education has to be better to a mere $88 millions, right? It is not so simple…

The First Clash

We had the opportunity to visit a primary and secondary school from a middle class “Colonia” (subdivision) in the city of Monterrey, in northern Mexico. First, we visited the “secundaria” (secondary) number 50 José Vasconcelos[1] very early in the morning, before class, for a “Saludo a la Bandera” (salute to the flag), a routinely ceremony of every Monday. All students were impeccable uniformed, with a sharp expression of pride and respect in the “patio de la escuela” (school’s courtyard), to sing ten stanzas, 242 words long “Himno Nacional” (National Anthem). They also performed for us a jazz choreography, and few students recited in perfect English, warm welcoming speeches. However, what impressed us the most, was a typical “baile veracruzano” (a dance from the Mexican state of Veracruz). Girls wore all white ruffled dresses, a triangular shaped black apron with embroidered flowers, a white stole adorned with red trimmings, and red flowers as headpieces. Boys wore white pants and “guayaberas” (traditional Mexican shirts), also white “sombreros” (cowboy’s hats) and “pañoletas rojas” (red bandanas) around their necks. What is original about this dance is that girls carried a glass full of water in their heads while moving to the music. The show served two purposes for us: We learned that Mexican students are educated from a very early age about patriotism and respect to their flag; and newest generations keep alive the country’s rich cultural diversity and traditions. Each of the approximately 700 students paid attention with the required reverence.
We met with the “Directora” (female school’s principal) who gave us a first glance of the system. She explained that this secondary has the higher standards in the region in terms of quality of education; measured by the results of a test called “Enlaces”[2] (Links). This is an equivalent to a standardized test established by SEP[3] for students of first and six grades. This national test measures entry and exit proficiency levels. On testing day, there is a parent in the classroom witnessing the test administration. In order to measure teacher’s performance, the SEP sends inspectors to schools and uses an evaluation system based on evidences. Schools with the higher percentages receive “premios” (awards), and teachers get a “puntaje” (points). These points are good to move forward in the pay scale, and determinants when applying to a better position.
It call our attention that in Mexico, “Educación Básica” (Basic Education) is the name given to Pre-K, Elementary, Middle School, and Secondary; “Educación Media Superior” (Superior Middle Education) is the equivalent to High School, also called “Prepa” (acronym for Preparatory school); and “Educación Superior” (Higher Education) for Universities. A “Licenciado” is a person with a Bachelor degree, “Magistrado” with a Master; and Doctor (Dr.) for males, or Doctora (Dra.) for females with doctorate degrees. Grades levels are in years: first year instead of first grade, second year for second grade, etc. Other significant finding was that students are not required to live in a specific zone around the school, like districts. Most of actual students come from far away neighborhoods, but their parents prefer this secondary for its academic achievements, rather that for how fanciest the facility looks.
Around noon, we saw all the students living and a new group with different uniforms was coming. They share the building between the two schools and each has its own name, administration, and student body. In the morning shift, they get the students from middle class and white-collar families. In the afternoon, the students are from less affluent families, usually service workers. In this way, the school can accommodate a great number of students with a diverse socioeconomic status. The afternoon school receives also a group of children from a convent, which also contributes financially to the school’s expenditures.
We concluded, after today’s observations, that the school plays a preponderant role in the community. The education of children is a shared social responsibility, where parents join forces with teachers in order to provide the resources needed. How contrasting to the U.S., where still fresh in our minds the San Antonio v. Rodriguez landmark case of 1973 where “the Supreme Court ruled against Rodriguez, deferring to the long history of local communities funding neighborhood schools. The Court declared that education was not a ‘fundamental right’ under the U.S. Constitution and that preserving local control was a legitimate reason to use the property tax system” (Sadker, 2003, p. 388). Unfortunately, a school funding system based on quotas from student’s families will not work in the U.S. because:
1. People relocate frequently because they change jobs or move to new neighborhoods, which do not facilitate a community bonding.
2. Students are required to attend a specific facility based on their place of residence. Parent’s emphasizes on geographical locations instead of school’s performances.
3. There are areas with bigger school-age populations than others. Some schools will not collect enough money to cover their operational expenses.
4. Many low-income families are working two or three jobs and barely making ends meet; for them, it may be financially impossible to contribute schools with quotas.
In the Classroom
We visited the “escuela primaria” (primary school) Alberto Jáuregui López, with the purpose of learning about them, and imparting a class to their students. In general, the operational system was similar to the secondary. They also share the building with another school. All the students wear a clean and colorful uniform. This primary school is located next to the secondary, so its demographics are the same. The administrative staff and the teachers all wear the same uniform; and even the secretary, so there is not distinction by ranks. For several consecutive years, this school is one the best in Monterrey.
All classrooms have as average between 35 to 38 students. Some need to pass underneath their chairs in order to get out. The facilities are old, but clean, and although there is a sort of a small bookcase attached to the wall, the teacher told us they do not have enough books. The school’s pays special attention to reading, and they organize frequent book fairs. One great initiative is that they promote reading a book with “la familia” (the family) and it helps them to find a common bond through literacy. Regardless material limitations, these students excel in their classes and use a great deal of creativity to solve problems. They brought to class yearlong science projects, build with regular household items.
When we entered the classroom, all students standup in sign of respect and saluted us with courtesy. The teacher introduced us to the class and they were interested in learning about us. One student in particular named Victor approached us talking in perfect English. He was born in Los Angeles, California, but for family reasons his parents move back to Mexico around forty-five days ago. We inquire at his experiences in the new school and social environment. He was very eloquent and happy with the changes. Most teachers coincide; students moving to Mexico from the U. S. have lower academic levels. Nevertheless, what impressed us were the camaraderie form Victor’s peers. They even ask us to talk with him because they want to hear a full conversation in English. Over all, we noticed high cooperativeness and respect among all the children. Gender plays an important role, since boys lead in classroom’s participation, and girls are quiet; they keep themselves relegated as spectators. The teacher commands without screaming and efficiently controls thirty-seven third grade children in a very professional fashion. She explained to us how limited resources they have. SEP provides textbooks free for all students, and at any given moment, they are all reading the same page of their textbooks in the whole nation.
We meet with parents and teachers to explore their interactions. There is a sense of pride and responsibility to support the school. Parent’s involvement could not be better. It is significant that a big number of parents have degrees and hold white-collar jobs. They also travel frequently to the U.S. for shopping, and want their children to learn English. In this northern region of Mexico, many families keep close ties with relatives in the U.S. so they teach their children to feel comfortable between both cultures. It is undisputable parent’s commitment to schools, and the support to their children and to the teachers. This elaborated relationship is able to work because of a powerful will from every side involved. Teachers have a vocational calling to their careers, and the majority of them will spend their lifetimes in the teaching profession. Parents understand that schoolteachers are only learning facilitators, and students need motivation and support from their families.
Schools in the U.S. pursue the same goals than Mexican counterparts: excellence in education, highest academic achievements, transmitting social values, etc. The problem is that in the U.S. we lack institutions truly interested in training professional educators. Charles J. Sykes criticizes Universities and their professors for abandon the education of teachers in exchange for research, which is the way to get more economic resources and prestige. He writes that top institutions, as Harvard and Berkeley do not continue the education of teachers for elementary and secondary levels, since teaching is for many a second-class activity. “The schools of education have become priesthoods of good intention and well-meaningless, where would-be teachers are taught how to cope with low self-esteems, dysfunctional families, and learning disorders: teachers as therapist, social worker, and Big Sister” (1995, p. 88). Parents have so much pressure from their jobs that they rely solely on the school for their children education. Another drawback for schools is that American children get too many distracting activities, like television, internet, videogames, etc. In Mexico, many families still follow old gender’s stereotypes where men are the breadwinners, while woman are homemakers and help with their children education.
In addition, other cultural factors restrain American teachers from applying disciplinary measurements in the classroom, because in our society a teacher does not have the same autonomy and social respect than in Mexico. “Many factors influence children’s intellectual developments, among which are the skill, warmth, and enthusiasm of teachers” (Evers, 2001, p.37). Our educational system it is not centralized like the one in Mexico, which mean that each state apply its own regulations. Some parents even disapprove the use of uniforms arguing that it attempt against the child individuality. There are so many chains of commands and bureaucratic procedures in our school system, that any attempts to put in practice a new idea will face great deal of caution. We cannot ignore the fact that the implementation of standardized testing in the American educational system has turn teachers into just test-passing coaches. “Many educators have already voiced their fear that standardized curriculum and high-stakes testing will reduce the teacher’s role from spontaneous facilitator to a mere test preparer” (Kohn, 2000; Ohanian, 1999).

The Teaching Factories

The most difficult element to understand from Mexico’s educational system was the role of Universities against the “Escuela Normal” (School for Teacher Preparation). A graduate from a university with a Bachelor degree cannot teach at a public school, only at a private school. To become a public school teacher in Mexico, a student has up to a maximum of three years after graduating high school to enter the “Escuela Normal”, from where can earn a Bachelor degree in education. Then there is the UPN or “Universidad Pedagógica Nacional” (National University of Pedagogy) or university for educators. In order to gain admission into this higher education institution, a person needs to be working as an active teacher in order to earn a Bachelor, Master, or Doctorate degree in an educational field.
They offer careers in “Educational Administration, Pedagogy, Psychology of Education, Sociology of Educations, Indigenous Education, Adult Education, Education Plan 94[4], Pre-school, and Primary Education for the Indigenous Medium, and French Education” (UPN, 2004). There is not room in Mexico for changing careers latter in life, and even less opportunities to enter into the teaching profession, unless you enroll in the Escuela Normal, at a very early age. The average age to enter the teaching profession is at twenty-one, after four years of study at the Escuela Normal. Teachers who get their degrees from this school are calling “Normalistas” (from Normal’s school). The first year, graduates must do “Servicio Social” (Social Service) which consists in working in a rural school assigned by the government. Starting salaries for teachers is around 7,000 Mexican pesos every two weeks, around $645 USD at today’s exchange rate. Nevertheless, there are other benefits in the form of “prestaciones” (services, discounts, and freebies) like a house financing at very low interest rates, merchandise at very low prices with installments payments taken out the paycheck without interests, and many other incentives. Moreover, society respects and sees with high regards to anybody in the teaching profession.
If we were to imitate Mexico’s teaching schools, we will face our social reality, where people change careers three or four times in their lives. Now, with the baby boomers explosion, many elderly professionals are becoming teachers. Immigration is a big factor in our society. Many people come to the U.S. in search of a better life. As part of social mobility, emigrants and low-income people go to school at different times, so there is not an age limit to enter a college or university. Ours is not a centralize government, so every state decide the best way to administer its educational system. Everybody is looking for better salaries and benefits, and supply and demand is what determines occupations in our free market system. Teachers, like any other professionals, will move in and out of the profession depending on individual financial needs and not on altruisms, although there may be few exceptions. In today’s socioeconomic realities, many people in the U.S. are entering the teaching profession because there are not too many job choices left, since big corporations are outsourcing the high paying jobs overseas.
A specialized school of education in every state, where aspiring teachers can learn advanced pedagogical principles, could be a wonderful improvement to our educational systems. Such type of school, however, must have a curricular equivalency to universities. It is a fact that teaching certification procedures are not always perfect in several states, and the Department of education should revise it. Perhaps more research will show the need for strong requirements, and especially to make universities the only academic authority to certify aspiring teachers. We observed a total disconnect between Mexico’s universities, the Escuela Normal, and UPN (National Pedagogic University), especially in terms of researching about the conditions, performance, and school’s progress. Every educational institution we visited was eager to exchange experiences with our university, and inquired about our educational system. Mexican teachers have a perception that our educational system is better, teachers more remunerated, and learning English is as condition for economic advancement.

The Historical Factor

According to SEP functionary and Professor Alfredo Galindo:
The main difference between Mexico’s and the Unite States is that the first was conquest, while the second colonized. Conquest mean that everything is taken away from the country; stole entirely. Colonization means the transfer of resources to the colonized country. That is important, because Spaniards took everything away from Mexico, while early American settlers move to the country and made it their homeland. In order to understand Mexican educational system, we have to search into the history of the country, since both have a close link: For example, Mexican President Porfirio Díaz was thirty years in power, and during this period, education was not for the poor. The country had strong French influences, especially around social structures. When the revolution of 1910, many secondary students become teachers overnight, without any academic degree, to solve an urgent national need. Education in Mexico is a work in progress, and every political administration has played a role in shaping it. In 1917, the Mexican Constitution prohibited any religion influences in public schools. Consecutive democratic governments have opened educational opportunities to the people. Still, Mexican centralized educational system needs to allow each geographical region to apply its own regulation, since the country it is not a monolithic entity. In Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, foreign investments from the U.S. has soared in the last Twenty years. Transnational corporations are demanding employees with a higher educational level, and even English language skills. However, this is not the whole country’s reality; in the south, there is the indigenous problem, poverty, underdevelopment, etc. The educational system in northern Mexico needs to be compatible with the U.S. educational system. Many universities do not have coherent curricular equivalences with their American counterparts. (Personal communication, June 16, 2007)
We noticed how people from Saltillo and Monterrey are very open to the American culture and language. U.S. corporations have moved many of its operations to these two cities. This fact has influenced Mexico’s idiosyncrasy in the northern region. No wonder in Saltillo alone there are eighteen universities and the city is nicknamed the “Athens of Mexico”. It is very easy to drive around the city and discover a proliferation of bilingual schools and language academies. In the curriculum of most local higher education institutions, the mastering of English is a requirement for graduation. Mexico’s schools are imitating our educational systems. Recently, they are considering to implement standardize testing similar to the ones we administer in our schools. Even Mexico’s school grades are similar to ours. According to Tamez (2004), the following is a description of Mexico’s grade levels:
Level / Grade, Age (Years old)
· Pre-School, Nursery School
· Kindergarten, 5–6; beginning of "basic" education (educación básica).
· Primaria (Primary School)
o 1st Grade, 6–7
o 2nd Grade, 7–8
o 3rd Grade, 8–9
o 4th Grade, 9–10
o 5th Grade, 10–11
o 6th Grade, 11–12
· Secundaria (Middle school)
o First grade, 12–13
o Second grade, 13–14
o Third grade, 14–15
· Bachillerato or Preparatoria (High school)
o First grade, 15–16; beginning of "middle higher" education (educación media superior).
o Second grade, 16–17
o Third grade, 17–18
· University; beginning of "higher" education (educación superior)
o Four or five years leading to a Bachelor's degree (licenciatura)
· Postgraduate
o Two to three years leading to a Master's Degree (maestría)
o Three or more years after the completion of a Master's degree, leading to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D., known locally as doctorado).
The two institutions that are completely unequal to a similar institution in the U.S. are the “Escuela Normal”, and “UPN” (National Pedagogic University).
“Escuela Normal” has been the school for aspiring teachers for over a Century. Before the year 1994, students enroll after finishing secondary school, at fifteen or sixteen years of age. After four years, they become public school teacher without a bachelor degree. Then they could enroll in UPN to earn a bachelor degree and continue graduate or doctorate studies in education. The government implemented a law giving a financial reward to those teachers that graduated from Escuela Normal and later earned a bachelor degree at UPN. However, after 1994, aspiring teachers entered Escuela Normal after finishing “Prepa” or High School, approximately at the age of seventeen. After four years, they graduate with a bachelor degree around the age of twenty-one. To continue with higher education, they can enroll at UPN to pursue a master degree in education, but will not earn the government financial incentive. If they enroll in UPN to earn another bachelor degree, they qualify for the financial incentive. When we inquired UPN Coahuila’s State director, Professor Gustavo Villaseñor about what sense does it makes to earn two bachelor degrees the answer was ambiguous: “To earn more money, because without a bachelor from our institution, the teachers don’t qualify for the government incentive” (Personal communication, June 17, 2007). Our conclusion was that they implemented the incentive for the Escuela Normal graduates before 1994, which did not have a bachelor degree, and the government never changed the law to accommodate the newest graduates with higher educational levels.
Pairing Mexico’s educational history to ours is impossible, because we have sharp differences in our political and social origins. While the Mexican Constitution protects secularism, here in the U.S. schools still are debating about sex education, Darwinism, o praying in classrooms. Puritanism is the ideological foundations of the U.S., and religious fundamentalism has influenced our academic curriculums since the beginning of our educational system. Sadker (2003) explains:
Early colonial education, both in Mew England and in other colonies, often began in the home. (Today’s home schooling movement is not a new approach.) The family was the major educational resource for youngsters, and the first lessons typically focused on reading. Parents and grandparents taught values, manners, social graces, and even vocational skills. (p. 306)
American democracy evolved and public education prevailed as State’s responsibility. Each State regulates teacher’s professional requirements for certification. With the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, commonly known as NCLB, anybody with a bachelor degree who pass a teaching certification competency exam, administered by the state in the area of teaching, become a public school teacher. Most private schools do not require its teachers to be certified. An Escuela Normal, or a similar purpose school of educators, or even a UPN (National Pedagogy University) in the U.S., could be subjects of further study. Obviously, the highly industrialized economy of the U.S. forces educational institutions to adjust its curriculums accordingly to corporate demands. Unfortunately, big corporations are having more and more dominance over our school system.


We all know the educational system in the U.S. is in very bad shape. It will take a long list just to mention countless deficiencies and shortcomings; but the solution it is not necessarily south of the border. Instead of focusing our research into administrative procedures or educational philosophies, we need to recognize that educational differences between Mexico and the U.S. are the result of historical, sociopolitical, and economic factors. For the same reason, improvements and solutions will come from major social changes, and not from simplistic operational adjustments. For example, a recent study found big discrepancies in standardized test results across different states. “Several groups have called for national standards to be written into the education law in light of the discrepancies in state standards, but Congress is unlikely to go that far because states see education as a fundamentally local prerogative” (The AP, 2007). What could make a lot of sense, and even sound like a rational procedure, adjusting national standards for testing, a similar approach to Mexico’s “Enlaces” test, will imply a complex legal encroachment: The U.S. Constitution does not provide education as a legal right, and leave to the states its administration.
Another factor has to do with our American idiosyncrasy. We believe it is up to individuals, and not to the collectivity to pursue our goals. We have been raise with the concepts of the “superhero”, while in Mexico; children learn group’s survival skills. For us, the term “collectivism” is synonym of “communism”, which brings back memories of the cold war and McCarthyism[5]. Even the corporate world promote a cutthroat philosophy of competitiveness and individualism “Greed is good”, is a common phrase for CEO’s and top company executives.
What American schools have been promoting for over a decade is a feel good philosophy under the label “self steam”. According to Sykes (1995),
It is impossible to understand America’s public schools without appreciating the extent, to which educationists will go to enhance, protect, shield, and inflate the self-image of the nation’s students. This therapeutic mindset (which often has more in common with the self-help movement than with academy) underlies much of the hostility toward what educationists imagine was the excessive intellectualism of traditional education. It also drives the attack on grades, on academic standards, and increasingly defines the peculiar personality of American education. (p. 49)
In Mexico, schoolchildren relate to their socioeconomic realities; they live their lives neither playing videogames nor watching television. From a very early age, children value the little they have, and learn that education is important to their future. Careers and vocations pass through generations. You can ask a youth student about what he or she want to be in life, and chances are will give a very intelligent answer.
In Mexico, despite a shortage in material resources, we saw smiling faces, disciplined children, learning motivations, good social behavior, and great academic achievements. In the U.S., poor academic results are because of lack of money, and low motivation due to school environment, or bad teachers. We always find an excuse to point our fingers onto external factors. It is impressive how much there is accomplish in Mexico’s schools with so little resources.
The bottom line is that Mexico’s educational system works for them, because it is coherent with its socioeconomic structures. At the same time, we share many similarities. Mexico it is not a monolithic country and neither the U.S. That is why education cannot function from a central bureaucracy without considering regional characteristics, like in our states. Mexican society was under the dictatorship of a single ruling party for over seventy years. Its people are accustomed to a paternalistic government. Here in the U.S. we do not like the government to patronize everything. Unfortunately, powerful corporations and big interests groups have total control of our politicians and of our educational curriculums.
In every exchange, there are many opportunity of learning, and we cannot ignore the amount of immigrant children from Mexico that come to our schools. Analyzing Mexico’s educational system will help us to teach these kids better. Undoubtedly, Mexican teachers have unsurpassed experiences, teaching philosophies and classroom strategies, which can be useful to research. Before we run to classify anyone educational system better, it must be in context to our cultural and socioeconomic system. Eventually, Mexico will be adopting much of our educational strategies, like standardized testing; and a handful of editorial houses will be in control of schoolbooks and teaching materials. It is a sad reality: Powerful American corporations will take over Mexico’s educational system. It is just a matter of time…

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[1] José Vasconcelos (1881-1959): Mexican Politician, writer, and philosopher; appointed in 1920 rector of the National University. He founded the “Secretaría de Educación Pública SEP (Public Education Secretary) and also was the National Library Director (Gispert, 2005, p. 974).
[2] Acronym formed by the Spanish words “Evaluación Nacional del Logro Académico en Centros Escolares” (National Evaluation of Academic Achievements in Scholar Centers).
[3] Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretary).
[4] For public school teachers whom graduated from Escuela Normal before the year 1994, when admission requirements was only secondary schools, and did not earned a bachelor degree.
[5] McCarthyism is the term describing a period of intense anti-Communist suspicion in the United States that lasted roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. Originally coined to criticize the actions of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, "McCarthyism" later took on a more general meaning.