Mexican education reform should start at the top

ABC, in a news article yesterday, quoted Trump from January saying about Mexico “We send them practically nothing and Mexico is the new China. I hate to say it. The Mexican leaders are so much smarter than our leaders.” There is so much wrong with that statement that it’s hard to know where to start.  But it’s even more ironic given the recent news out of Mexico about President Peña Nieto plagiarizing almost one-third of his law thesis.

Here’s the Huffington Post on the scandal, “Of the 682 paragraphs that made up the 200-page thesis, titled ‘Mexican Presidentialism and Alvaro Obregon,’ 197, or 28.9 percent, were found to be plagiarized. In a statement, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez sought to play down the accusation of plagiarism, instead calling the omissions “style errors.” He added that Peña Nieto met all the requirements needed to graduate as a lawyer from Panamerican University.”

I love the government spokesman’s excuse.*  I’ve only seen bits and pieces but as a professor with a lot of experience (unfortunately) of spotting plagiarism, I can assure you that we are not talking about “style errors.”  Nice try though.  I wonder what the higher-up at Panamerican University think about Sanchez’s last statement now that the plagiarism has been revealed!

Compare that to Obama’s educational pedigree (from Wikipedia): “Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School between 1992 and 2004.”

Now education does not necessarily equal smarts, but Peña Nieto was not exactly very smart in hiding his plagiarism**, so I’d have to give Obama the big advantage between the two.

*To his credit, he has had a lot to deal with lately (click here for the most recent corruption scandal that EPN is facing)

*See this story in the Atlantic for some examples.  Perhaps my favorite part is the fact that EPN plagiarized a former Mexican president, Miguel de la Madrid.  lol you can’t make this stuff up.

 

The difficulty of bureaucratic reform, India edition

I just found an interesting NBER working paper (gated) looking at the frustrations of trying to reform the Indian bureaucracy.  The paper is titled “Deal with the Devil: The Successes and Limitations of Bureaucratic Reform in India” and is written by Iqbal Dhaliwal and Rema Hanna.

It reinforces the argument that technology is no panacea in these types of reform. There seems to be no easy answers or shortcuts to bringing about real reform. Here is a shortened version of their abstract:

Employing a technological solution to monitor the attendance of public-sector health care workers in India resulted in a 15 percent increase in the attendance of the medical staff. Despite initiating the reform on their own, there was a low demand among all levels of government–state officials, local level bureaucrats, and locally-elected bodies—to use the better quality attendance data to enforce the government’s human resource policies due to a fear of generating discord among the staff. These fears were not entirely unfounded: staff at the treatment health centers expressed greater dissatisfaction at their jobs and it was also harder to hire new nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists at the treatment health centers after the intervention. Thus, this illustrates the implicit deal that governments make on non-monetary dimensions—truancy, allowance of private practices—to retain staff at rural outposts in the face of limited budgets and staff shortages.

New energy opportunities in Mexico

Shannon O’Neil and James S. Taylor recently wrote a great primer on Mexican energy reform.  Click here to read the whole article.

The part I found most interesting is at the end, where they discuss the possibilities for future energy development in Mexico.  Besides the opportunity for partnering with PEMEX, here are some areas where they see real investment potential:

1. Shale oil and gas. Mexico possesses substantial shale gas resources that Pemex has effectively left untouched. There are five promising, geographically disbursed basins in the country, as identified by Pemex. The Cuenca de Burgos (as the Eagle Ford is known in Mexico) is estimated to hold two-thirds of Mexico’s technically recoverable shale gas resources and would have significant appeal for companies familiar with the geology of the formation and the infrastructure that exists in the region.”  

2. “Pipelines. With the current lack of sufficient pipelines creating inefficiencies in the sector, we believe there are significant opportunities to invest in midstream infrastructure.”

3. “Electricity. The energy reform also includes the opening to private investment for electricity generation. The major areas of opportunity in this field will be in the addition of power generation capacity (nuclear energy will remain solely responsibility of the Mexican government) and in the upgrading and improvement of the electricity grid.”

It is amazing that the government was able to reform PEMEX at all, given how much of a sacred cow it has been.  But as the authors make clear, this was just the first step of many.  Mexico needs a host of secondary reforms to clarify and support the new laws.  Apparently the executive branch is currently working on that and should have a package together in the next couple of weeks.  Vamos a ver…

EPN sees corruption everywhere but in his own house

Sure he went after La Maestra, the head of the teachers’ union after she broke from the PRI, but what about Carlos Romero Deschamps, the head of the petroleum union and PRI Senator? He is rated by Forbes as the second most corrupt person in Mexico:

“Paulina Romero, his daughter, displays onFacebook her travels around the world in private jets –accompanied by her three English bulldogs Keiko, Boli and Morgancita–  her voyages on yachts, dining in first class restaurants and sporting $12,000 Hermes luxury bags. Her brother drives a $2 million limited edition red Enzo Ferrari sport car, a gift from their father, whose trade union monthly salary is $1,864. Romero Deschamps, a federal senator, is reported to have a “cottage” in Cancun with a value close to $1.5 million. According to political analyst Denise Dresser, in 2011 he received $21.6 million for “aid to the union executive committee” and $15.3 million from union dues. My “hands are clean,” Romero Deschamps claims. The Peña Nieto administration seems to agree. He is not under investigation.”

His case is no different from that of La Maestra except that he’s remained loyal to the PRI.

It is fascinating to me that in Forbes’ list of the 10 most corrupt Mexicans, there is a serving PRI Senator and 5 PRI ex-state Governors, yet somehow the PRI is going to reform Mexico.

champs

Mexico’s “functioning democracy”

The Washington Post has an article congratulating Mexico on its just-passed energy reform.  Given that Pemex has desperately needed reform for decades, and little to no action has been taken during that time, I agree that it is both impressive and promising that EPN got his energy reforms through Congress.  The WP goes a bit overboard though in arguing that “While [the US] Congress was congratulating itself on reaching a minimalist bipartisan deal on the budget, Mexico demonstrated how a more functional democracy can tackle a nation’s biggest and most sensitive problems.” 

This WP headline was in my Google Alert this morning right next to the following article, “Mexico Lawmaker Strips in Congress to Protest Energy Bill.”  It made for a funny juxtaposition.  Apparently, a left-wing MP named Antonio Garcia Conejo stripped down to his skivvies to protest what he called “the stripping of the nation.”  Here is Mexico’s functioning democracy in all its stripped down glory!

antonio_conejo

“If this is our future, we don’t want it”

A student in my Mexico class came across this video and I decided to share it because I thought it was powerful and well done.  The video is short (~4 minutes) and is acted completely by kids.  In it, they show the myriad problems plaguing Mexican society today.  At the end, they say that if their future will be like the one portrayed in the video, they don’t want it.  I cannot explain exactly why, but having the kids act out the problems gave me goose bumps.  It is in Spanish but you don’t need to speak it to understand the message.

Cool education news from Mexico

I just got done covering education and the difficulty of reform in my Mexican economic development class and it was pretty depressing.  Given that, I was thrilled to read about some very cool news on the educational front in Mexico.

Wired has an article about a middle school teacher who was intrigued by the grannies in the cloud idea and decided to try to implement something similar in his class.  The result is something like a Hollywood movie.  Here’s the scene:

“José Urbina López Primary School sits next to a dump just across the US border in Mexico. The school serves residents of Matamoros, a dusty, sunbaked city of 489,000 that is a flash point in the war on drugs. There are regular shoot-outs, and it’s not uncommon for locals to find bodies scattered in the street in the morning. On most days, a rotten smell drifts through the cement-walled classrooms. Some people here call the school un lugar de castigo—“a place of punishment.”

Here’s the hero teacher of the story:

Sergio Juárez Correa started by telling them that there were kids in other parts of the world who could memorize pi to hundreds of decimal points. They could write symphonies and build robots and airplanes. Most people wouldn’t think that the students at José Urbina López could do those kinds of things. Kids just across the border in Brownsville, Texas, had laptops, high-speed Internet, and tutoring, while in Matamoros the students had intermittent electricity, few computers, limited Internet, and sometimes not enough to eat.

Here are some of the (pretty big) obstacles he faced:

A key component in Mitra’s theory [the granny in the cloud guy] was that children could learn by having access to the web, but that wasn’t easy for Juárez Correa’s students. The state paid for a technology instructor who visited each class once a week, but he didn’t have much technology to demonstrate. Instead, he had a batch of posters depicting keyboards, joysticks, and 3.5-inch floppy disks. He would hold the posters up and say things like, “This is a keyboard. You use it to type.”

As a result, Juárez Correa became a slow-motion conduit to the Internet. When the kids wanted to know why we see only one side of the moon, for example, he went home, Googled it, and brought back an explanation the next day. When they asked specific questions about eclipses and the equinox, he told them he’d figure it out and report back.

The Hollywood ending:

The previous year, 45 percent had essentially failed the math section, and 31 percent had failed Spanish. This time only 7 percent failed math and 3.5 percent failed Spanish. And while none had posted an Excellent score before, 63 percent were now in that category in math.

The language scores were very high. Even the lowest was well above the national average. Then he noticed the math scores. The top score in Juárez Correa’s class was 921. Zavala Hernandez [the principle] looked over at the top score in the state: It was 921. When he saw the next box over, the hairs on his arms stood up. Paloma received the highest math score in the country, but the other students weren’t far behind. Ten got math scores that placed them in the 99.99th percentile. Three of them placed at the same high level in Spanish.

That’s right.  Not only did the scores go through the roof after one year of the new teaching methodology, but Juárez Correa discovered that he had the smartest math student in the country in his class.

The evil administrator tries his best to denigrate Juárez Correa and his students’ achievement, makes an idiot of himself, and hopefully (but unlikely) signs his own letter of resignation with this dribble:

Francisco Sánchez Salazar, chief of the Regional Center of Educational Development in Matamoros, was even dismissive. “The teaching method makes little difference,” he says. Nor does he believe that the students’ success warrants any additional help. “Intelligence comes from necessity,” he says. “They succeed without having resources.”

Our hero remains undaunted though and I can only hope that other teachers find inspiration in his story (and that administrators like Sánchez Salazar are canned).

Scaling up is hard to do

Blogging by Boz has an interesting post about rooting out corruption in the Mexican police force.  He notes that the government had set a goal to vet all of the police in the country but so far has only vetted 75% of the force.  I’m not sure when this goal was originally set, because 75% actually seems quite high to what I would expect.  There have been inevitable delays and some unfortunate unintended consequences.  Here are a few that Boz lists:

1. “Can they define “corruption”? There is a difference between a cop who takes bribes to let drivers out of traffic tickets and a cop who takes bribes to ignore extortion by cartels. The tests have allegedly been far better at finding the former than the latter.

2. Fired police have been recruited by criminal groups. In one particularly awful example in Jalisco, a fired police officer was working as a sicario for a cartel killing other police officers less than two weeks after he was removed from duty. If firing police simply increases the ranks and skills of criminal groups in certain states, that’s not a good policy. These fired officers need an opportunity and training to obtain an honest job.

3. Continued corruption. Even after these tests have taken place, there have been incidents of police who passed the tests working for criminal groups, sometimes in the role of kidnappers. That has harmed the population’s confidence in the testing process.”

Boz concludes by making the excellent argument that vetting is (1) hard to scale effectively; and (2) something that must be done continuously and not just a one-time deal.

“While Washington waffles, I’m not waiting”

I never thought I’d be quoting California governor Jerry Brown but in some rare good news for immigration reform, he signed into law sweeping new reforms yesterday.  Here are the major reforms, set to go into force in January 2014:

1. “Immigrants in this country illegally would have to be charged with or convicted of a serious offense to be eligible for a 48-hour hold and transfer to U.S. immigration authorities for possible deportation.”

2. “Undocumented immigrants can be licensed as lawyers.”

3. “It will be a crime for employers to “induce fear” by threatening to report a person’s immigration status and allow for the suspension or revocation of employers’ business licenses if they retaliate against employees because of citizenship or immigration status.”

4. “There will be a new policy to allow people to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.”

The article goes on to not that while many other states have enacted similar reforms, the impact of California’s actions could be especially dramatic since nearly 20% of illegal immigrants in the US are thought to reside there.

It’s nice for a change to wake up to some good news about government action.

Mexico’s biggest boom in a century?

Forbes has a breathless article on Mexico called “How Oil Reforms Could Trigger Mexico’s Biggest Economic Boom In A Century.”

It is still far from certain that EPN can get serious oil reform through the Congress, but if he does, then it’s true that Mexico’s fortunes will change for the better.  Still, I’m skeptical of the following claim:

“Not only will it be bigger than the revolution in shale drilling and fracking has been in the United States,” says Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, “This will be the most significant change in Mexico’s economic policy in 100 years.”

What is fascinating though is EPN’s genius spin on these reforms.  President Lazaro Cardenas is still hailed as a hero for taking over Pemex in 1938. Nationalization was so popular that the day is still commemorated in a national holiday. What is less known that in 1940, Cardenas changed the laws to allow Pemex “to enter into production-sharing and profit-sharing contracts with private, Mexican-owned companies.”

It was President Ruiz Cortines in 1958 who modified the law to essentially eliminate the possibilities of such contracts.  So Peña Nieto has positioned himself as a latter day Cardenas, or at least a man intent on restoring Cardenas’ original intent with respect to oil.  Duncan Wood has a great quote where he “likens Peña Nieto’s political performance to Jesus Christ’s miracle of raising Lazarus (or Lazaro) from the dead.” As he concludes, “They know how to put on a show.” That they do.

oil_nationalization

Mural of Cardenas signing into law oil and agrarian reforms.