The reforms had little time to work. Just 171,000 teachers—less than 10% of the total—were hired on merit. A further 36,000 head teachers and supervisors were promoted on ability rather than loyalty to union bosses. But even this may leave a mark. A study published this year by the Development Bank of Latin America found that teachers hired on merit not only had better high-school grades than union-picked ones, they also helped their pupils learn faster. That inspires hope that Mexico may have improved its lowly ranking in the next round of pisa tests, an international measure of student proficiency in maths, reading and science, the results of which are due in December.
Mr López Obrador has long complained that the old reforms infringed on teachers’ “dignity”, and that national evaluations were “punitive” and unfair to poorer states. In fact, veteran teachers who failed evaluations three times in a row were not laid off. Instead they were transferred to administrative roles. Such a fate befell less than 1% of those assessed. But the haphazard implementation may have hastened the reforms’ demise. The Peña administration overspent its marketing budget but underspent its teacher-training budget. To appease strikers, the government gave deputy head-teacher positions to union commissioners, undermining the meritocracy it was trying to build, says Marco Fernández of Tecnológico de Monterrey.