American University of Beirut
Education 303: "Determinants of Educational Policy"
Instructor: Dr. Munir Bashshur
January 2001
" Educational Decentralization 
In Mexico"
By Nada Salem Abisamra

Based on Easton's & Bashshur's Frameworks.

(Click here to view the Diagram)
(Word Document)


SEP = The Secretariat of Public Education
SNTE = The National Teachers’ Union

Check the Appendix for some Definitions
Click here to view this page as a Word Document

"Around the world the emergence of modern economies, increasingly educated societies, the triumph of capitalism, the collapse of centralized planning, the demise of colonialism, and the demands for increased democratization have resulted in enormous pressures on nations to decentralize their public institutions, especially in education." (Hanson, 2000)
Background: What prepared for the decentralization in Mexico?
We shall see in this section what are the international as well as national factors that led the Mexican government to adopt educational decentralization.
1- International factors:
For many years the World Bank and its economic policies toward government loans has been at the epicenter of decentralization reforms worldwide. According to the economic dependency view, the Mexican government, as a condition of acquiring additional loans, agreed to pursue a policy of educational decentralization because it is consistent with the World Bank’s neoliberal economic views.
On the other hand, in the late 1980’s, Mexico signed a trade agreement with the USA and Canada (NAFTA), which led it to shift from a closed and protected economy to an open economy. This new policy supported a reduction of state intervention in the business production process, the privatization of hundreds of public enterprises, including banks, and offering incentives to foreign investment.
Thus, because of these economic integrations, the Mexican government had to create a modern educational system able to produce competent manpower required to consolidate the structural transformation of the economy.
2- National factors:
In the late 1960’s, after the Second World War, everything turned national in Mexico, including the system of education. This system knew a rapid expansion. However, this expansion benefited the urban areas at the expense of the rural ones, hence the need to increase the quality of education and provide more educational opportunities to the poor--especially in the rural areas.
In the 1970’s, the Ministry of Public Education (SEP)’s cumbersome bureaucratic structure was not capable of responding to the speedy incorporation of the numerous new teachers. Very soon complaints and protests among teachers began and there was a growing dissent movement that needed to be coped with. From this grew the need to reorganize the administrative structure of SEP and decentralize daily procedures in the different states. The highly centralized system was notoriously rigid, inefficient, conflict laden, unresponsive to the needs of local schools, unable to improve the quality of education, and frequently dominated by the National Teachers’ Union which was becoming too powerful.
During the late 1980’s, the weakening of the centralized State within a context of economic crises and neoliberal policies alerted politicians and policy-makers to the need for State reform.
Country studies of educational decentralization demonstrate that while improving the quality of education is always a goal, it is rarely (if ever) the principal goal. These types of reform tend to be born in political arenas and driven by many motives (mostly informal and frequently hidden).
The two main motives behind decentralization in Mexico were:
1- Strengthening policy control at the national level and federalism in education in order to improve the quality and equity of education.
2- Breaking the power of teachers' unions. (Hidden motive)
Street (1992) argues that "educational decentralization was created in Mexico to reestablish decision-making limits, and to relieve congestion in SEP from the pressure of corporative groups related with the teachers’ union and the bureaucracy" (p. 52).
Input Generation:
How did policy generation start?
During the last decades decentralization in Mexico went through different stages to finally achieve the educational "federalization" with the signing of the "National Agreement for the Modernization of Basic Education (ANMEB)".
In 1965 the Minister of Education, Agustín Yáñez, announced the modernization project within the educational system to attain educational quality. The project concentrated mostly on the modernization of the curriculum and teaching methods.
The next administration (Luis Echeverría, 1970-1976) integrated these aspects of initial reforms into the second phase, which produced innovations in curriculum design, elaboration of new textbooks, teacher training and internal structure of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP). In 1971, a partial administrative decentralization started with the creation of the Vice-ministry of Planning and Coordination and, in 1973, of the Unidades de Servicios Educativos a Descentralizar (USEDES). The federal government recognized the need to create a more efficient system of decision-making as well as to reorganize the bureaucracy, which increased in tremendous proportions during the previous administrations. The purpose of the USEDES was to delegate administrative responsibilities to smaller regional governments. However, in practice these regional units did not delegate authority or decision-making capacity. Local authorities maintained their strong central ties with the federal government diminishing the intentions to provide greater participation in the regions. In 1973, changes to the Federal Education Law looked at the role of the federation, the states, and the municipalities. As Loyo (1992) explains, "the law did not do any deconcentration, on the contrary it increased administrative faculties for the federation, even though the law established that the states, as well as the municipalities would be in charge of the technical and administrative tasks" (p. 60).
In 1978, The federal government launched a policy of administrative deconcentration to improve management and to expand basic education to remote areas. The SEP started to "reorganize" (deconcentrate) its administrative apparatus. The intention of this reorganization was to simplify budget distribution and the administration of services. Thirty-one delegations were established in each state and assigned to the traditional local offices directly accountable to the SEP. Thus, states were supposed to be responsible for the administration of their own educational services, leaving to the federal government the supervision, evaluation, and financing. These objectives were not achieved due to the lack of federal and state coordination and because "the process of deconcentration enhanced the federation in each estate lowering the authority of local governors" (Loyo, 1992, p. 61). Moreover, signs of conflict appeared between the federal government and the National Teachers’ Union (SNTE).
The SNTE opposed decentralization policy because it threatened some areas under its direct control, particularly in basic education. At the end of this administration two issues remained unsolved. First, the administration was still centralized and managed inefficiently, and second, the political power of the SNTE increased, not only inside the union, but also within the SEP’s structure.
During Miguel de la Madrid’s administration (1982-1988), the decentralization issue returned to the educational sphere with the creation of the Decentralization Committees for Primary and Teachers Education. These committees operated in each state with the rationale to enhance state and municipal governments, although state authorities were tied to the education central power of the federal government. This policy caused some difficulties between the SNTE and the SEP. Again this attempt for decentralization failed because the central government did not transfer its decision capacity and resource control to the states, because the better distribution of the resources among the three levels of government –federal, state and municipal- implied in the fiscal reform never arrived. Therefore, states dealt more with an administrative deconcentration, where they obtained more responsibilities instead of resources and decision-making capabilities.
From 1970 to 1988, structural reforms made in the Mexican education system guided the national project to decentralize basic education and teacher training institutes with the aim of improving the quality of education.
In 1989, the SNTE (the National Teachers’ Union) who had been opposed to educational decentralization finally agreed to accept it when the federal government bundled the policy with increases in wages for teachers, economic incentives to improve quality of instruction, new schemes to promote upward mobility, and the President’s assurance that this strategy would not dismantle SNTE.
What enablers and barriers were faced?
President de la Madrid and First Secretary of Public Education, Reyes-Heroles, worked hard in order to decentralize education in Mexico. The weakening of the centralized state because of economic crises in addition to the economic integration of the country on the international level helped a lot to achieve this decentralization later on.
On the other hand, the process took so much time because of the lack of federal and state coordination in the 1970's and because of a lack of decision capacity and resource control for the states in the 1980's. Moreover, the barriers put by SNTE (The National Teachers’ Union) -- which refused the decentralization of education for fear to lose their prerogatives and be dismantled-- contributed greatly in the delay.
On May 18, 1992 the "National Agreement for the Modernization of Basic Education (ANMEB)" (to decentralize the educational institution) was signed between:
What does this new agreement entail?
The Agreement of May 1992 pictures the new roles, routines, and responsibilities of the different authorities (federal, state and municipal), and the new 1993 Law designs a decentralized system of education. The model that emerged from these negotiations and legislation neither grants an evolution of autonomy to the states nor assigns them fiscal responsibilities. It is the central government that financed almost the entire education system (Hansen, 2000).
Because of its main features, the Mexican model of decentralization is more of cooperation and coordination between the states and the federal government rather than of a representation of sovereign states agreeing to make up a national system. This framework of decentralization (also called federalization or New Federalism in many documents and official speeches) adopts no extreme positions. It is a model in which the central state maintains the power to dictate general, nation-wide norms for the overall system. This power covers the elaboration of the national curriculum and the approval of regional curricula, the evaluation of the system, and the channeling of compensatory and extraordinary resources to poor states. The states assume responsibility for labor relations, school management and the administration of other reforms decided in SEP.  So this type of decentralization is called deconcentration, or the transfer of work but not significant decision-making authority. While the national leaders in Mexico proclaimed a major decentralization reform, it basically transferred educational management tasks to the 31 state governments and increased (centralized) control over educational policy at the national level.
Input conversion / Implementation:
Once policy was formulated, what happened? How was it put to work?

Mexico used the "blitzkrieg" approach to carry forward the reform. In just a matter of days, the central government simultaneously transferred resources and responsibility to the 31 states for more than 14 million students, 513,000 teachers, 115,000 administrative employees, 100,000 schools and other buildings, and 22 million pieces of equipment. The seniority, fringe benefits and labor union rights of all these workers were assimilated in the states’ educational structures. All this happened nation-wide in just a few weeks, without any requests from the states or special preparation for their management infrastructures. Many states in Mexico were not ready either financially or administratively for decentralizing basic education. (Barajas Villalbazo, 2000)
The educational decentralization reform in Mexico was a central decision emerging from the national government and not a consensual petition from the state governors, or from school principals and teachers. Although there were demands to decentralize at the national level, there was no social or political demand to extend educational decentralization to the local level, particularly on the part of teachers and governors.

To give legal form to the new structure of the Mexican educational system, the Federal Congress reformed Article Three of the Constitution in 1992 and approved the General Law of Education (GLE) in 1993.
What support did this new agreement receive and what opposition?
- Support: Federal government- SEP- Governors- Teachers- SNTE (immediate winner)- The poor.
- Opposition: The biggest losers with the arrival of educational decentralization in Mexico were Mexico City Bureaucrats, and they often criticize the reform saying that it was just a federalist revamp, another example of the reformist tendencies of the Mexican State.

(What happened as a result)

In May 1992, the enactment of the ANMEB during the Salinas administration legally transferred labor relations, teachers’ payroll, school management, and infrastructure from the central to the state administration. Most states had to establish their own state ministries of education. The governments of the 31 states, and the SNTE signed the ANMEB and "promised to reorganize the school system, reintroducing federalism into education. This meant that control of federal basic education services would be transferred to a state level. From that moment on, state governors were responsible for the operation of all the schools within their jurisdiction" (SEP, 1999a, p. 12).
How were the new duties and prerogatives divided between the Federal Government & the State Governments?
Based on the new agreement (ANMEB),
The Federal Government:
1. Determines for the whole nation the basic education and teacher training curricula.
2. Establishes the national school calendar.
3. Elaborates and update the free textbooks.
4. Authorizes the use of any other book for basic education.
5. Prepares general guidelines for the use of teaching materials.
6. Regulates the system of education, in-service training and professional upgrading of teachers.
7. Fixes the pedagogical requisites of curricula for private preschools.
8. Regulates a national system of credits and educational equivalents.
9. Has a national register of educational institutions.
10. Designs guidelines for the Councils of Social Participation.
11. Realizes planning, programming and evaluation of the national system of education.
12. Coordinates cultural relations with other countries.
13. Takes all the necessary measures to guarantee the national character of basic education and teacher training institutions.
The State Governments
1. Provide basic education and teacher training services.
2. Propose to SEP the regional curricular contents for basic education and teacher training.
3. Adjust, if necessary, the school calendar to local needs.
4. Provide in-service training for teachers according to SEP determinations.
5. Accept degrees of other states according to SEP regulations.
6. Supply, reject or revoke authorization to the private sector to create and operate basic education and teacher training services.
Shared Jurisdiction: They both
1. Promote and provide educational services according to national and regional needs.
2. Determine and formulate curriculum content different form what the Federal Government does in # 1.
3. Acknowledge studies done outside the country according to the guidelines of SEP.
4. Approve, reject or revoke the recognition of private educational institutions different from basic education and teacher training.
5. Publish books or other materials beyond the official ones.
6. Provide library services to assist the national education system, with educational innovation and scientific, humanistic and technological research.
7. Promote educational research.
8. Encourage the development of technical education and technological research.
9. Promote cultural and physical activities.
10. Oversee the enforcement of the General Education Law.
The unification of education maintained the most essential matters of educational policy under the federal government direction: the definition of the national curriculum, the design of teachers’ training and Teachers’ Career, the evaluation of the system, the allocation of educational budgets to the states, and the channeling of compensatory and extraordinary resources from national programs.
Despite erratic policies and political conflicts, the decentralization of education in Mexico is on the move; it generated important institutional change in the states, some power shifts, and planted the seeds of a new organizational model for school management.
Whereas it does not represent a complete devolution to the states of curriculum content, academic evaluation, and quality assessment, through significantly increased management responsibilities, the states are assuming a large measure of influence over education -- and it is getting larger. The federal government is continuing to transfer to the states responsibility for additional educational institutions, such as: adult education, technical secondary education (CONALP), and the corporation for school construction.
However, even though the federal government is transferring significant management tasks to the states, the center retains and utilizes its power to define the limits and boundaries to which the states must adhere. The federal government is playing a more dynamic role in policy formation, controlling educational expenditures at the state level, promoting compensatory programs, and helping poor states struggle with the lack of sufficient places for students to attend.
Stresses Stresses Stresses Stresses Stresses Stresses Stresses Stresses
At this moment the federal government faces certain situations that require immediate attention. First, there is still political tension between the central government and state authorities; second, SEP authorities are not attaching enough importance to the growing distance concerning states in terms of monitoring the educational decentralization process; third, the SEP maintains hiding the achievement results of students; and fourth, the standardization of teachers’ salaries is still pending.
The tension between the state governors and the national government is growing because state governors were expecting to play more important roles after educational decentralization, and not to be considered as mediators in the reform. Another major complaint is about the compensatory programs, which are still designed and launched by the President. Governors also claim that teachers’ salaries should be negotiated in local states and not in the Ministry of Education office in Mexico City.
Even though the Mexican model of decentralization of education took a lot of time to come into effect and had rather vague expressed motives, it appears now to work relatively well. The bundling of several reforms has been a key to progress, with the increased financial incentives being the principal driving force. However, to achieve a true federal system (with greater degrees of freedom and most decisions made at the local level) it may take 20 or 25 additional years. (Ornelas, 2000)
The hopeful expectation is to find clear and conclusive information about the impact of decentralization on classroom performance as demonstrated by test scores. However, various researchers have pointed out that direct cause (decentralization) and effect (test scores) relationships are of questionable validity because of the host of intervening variables, such as: teacher training, parent support, availability of resources, student and teacher motivation, and peer group pressure.
Nevertheless, if educational decentralization produces a "win-win" (center - periphery) situation rather than "win-lose," the changes that take place inside and outside the classroom should be constructive whatever the initial motivation.
One can just wonder if the State governments are permitted to introduce substantive reforms of the curriculum in both the aspect of subject matter and practice, or they are really too dependent on the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP). Reforming curricular issues is also crucial. The goal of any decentralization effort ought to be to allow the local communities to effect changes they deem (themselves) are best designed to promote an enhancement of the productivity of the educational apparatus. If an educational system is free to innovate and experiment with curricular elements then they will in time devise programs best suited to specific situations which may or may not coincide with national goals or those of other settings. (cf. Michael Adams)
Even though in theory the federal government is responsible for evaluating the system, little progress has been made: no standard for measuring student achievement has been defined (OCE, 1999).
Why does the federal government continue to hide data about Mexican students’ achievement? Evaluation is a highly political process, because the potential of its purposes is to maintain the legitimation of the evaluating authority (Weiler, 1989). It is possible to argue that the federal government is more concerned about the political importance of evaluation as a tool of power than as a mechanism to improve student performances. Another reason to maintain the current evaluation mechanisms has to do with the major disagreement between the union and the federal government. The SEP authorities are under strong pressures from the SNTE, which opposes the evaluation of the teachers’ performances.
Is the decentralization in Mexico a real one covering all aspects of educational and political life? Or is it in fact a centralization of planning and just a decentralization of implementation? If it is so, then, as Bashshur says (1982), it is just a cover in order to lessen the burdens of the central authorities. Knowing this, we cannot help but question ourselves on the duration of the success it is having.

Barajas Villalbazo, Norma Angelica; Aug. 2000. "Nuevo León and Oaxaca After Educational Decentralization."
Stanford University School of Education, International Comparative Education, Master's Monographs- Master’s Program Director: Diana Rhoten, Ph.D., Advisor: Martin Carnoy, Ph.D.
Bashshur, Munir; (1982). "Trends in Arab Education- In the light of 'The Strategy for the Development of Arab Education' report." (In Arabic)- Arab Organization for Education, Culture, & Sciences (AOECS)- Department of Educational Research.
Burki, S., Perry, J., & Dillinger, W. (1999). Beyond the center: Decentralizing the state. Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Washington D.C.: World Bank. Retrieved at
Chau, T. (1985). Equity and the decentralization question. In John Lauglo and Martin McLean. The control of education. University of London. Institute of Education.
Hanson, E. Mark; 1997- "Educational Decentralization: Issues and Challenges"
Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas (PREAL)- No. 9 Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, DC
Hanson, E. Mark; 1998- "Strategies of educational decentralization: key questions and core issues."
Journal of Educational Administration; 36:2 1998; pp. 111-128; ISSN: 0957-8234
Hanson, E. Mark; 2000- (University of California at Riverside, Riverside, California) "Educational Decentralization Around the Pacific Rim"- Editorial- Electronic Conference on Educational Decentralization- Global Education Reform- The World Bank Group-
Kamat, Sangeeta; 2000- "Deconstructing the rhetoric of decentralization: The state in education reform."
CURRENT ISSUES IN COMPARATIVE EDUCATION, Volume 2, Number 2, April 30, 2000 University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Ornelas, Carlos; 2000- "The Politics of the Educational Decentralization in Mexico"
Journal of Educational Administration ; 38:5 2000; pp. 426-442 ; ISSN: 0957-8234 (online)
Response #1: Michael S. Young, FIU-IDE, Email address:
"Initial Impression" (Aug. 17, 2000)
Response #2:  Michael S. Young, FIU-IDE, Email address:
"Deconcentration vs. Decentralization" (Aug. 19, 2000)

Response #3: Michael Adams, Florida International University, Email Address:
"The Control of the Curriculum, the Ultimate Test of the Reform Spirit"  (Aug. 21, 2000)

The World Bank Group- Electronic Conference on Educational Decentralization- Global Education Reform
To participate in the electronic conference and read comments from other reviewers go to the following address:
Internet sites:
A History of Decentralization
Decentralization in Latin America- An Evaluation
Edited by Arthur Morris and Stella Lowder
Education and Decentralization
Federalism (USA)
Fostering Social Capital through Federal Decentralization in Mexico
Mexico: Rural Development in Marginal Areas Project
Overview of Federalism
Rationale for Decentralization
The Mexican Education System
The Political Reference Almanac- Mexico
United States of Mexico- Case Study
What is Decentralization?


There are three major forms of decentralization:

Deconcentration: typically transfers tasks and work, but not authority, to other units within an organization.
Delegation: transfers decision-making authority from higher to lower hierarchical units. However, this authority can be withdrawn at the discretion of the delegating unit.
Devolution: transfers authority to a unit that can act independently, or a unit that can act without first asking permission. Privatization is a form of devolution in which responsibility and resources are transferred from public sector institutions to private sector ones.

PS: Devolution, rather than delegation of authority, has a better chance for long-term success because it provides for continuity in the process of change. (Hanson, 1997)

Decentralization: Definitions

1- Hurst (1985) mentions that the decentralization process
implies the transfer of certain functions from a small group of policy-makers to a small
group of authorities at the local level.
2- Chau (1985) defines what he calls a pseudo-form of decentralization that does not
alter the distribution of power between the federal and the state government. He argues,
"that decentralization is a certain delegation of power to a regional administration, but
with the sole objective of increased efficiency in the use of resources" (pp. 96-97).

Goals of educational decentralization:

1. Accelerated economic development.
2. Increased management efficiency.
3. Redistribution of financial responsibility.
4. Increased democratization through the distribution of power.
5. Greater local control through deregulation.
6. Market-based education.
7. Neutralizing competing centers of power.
8. Improving the quality of education.

<=> Educational decentralization is intended to increase state autonomy inside the
educational system.  (Hanson, 1997)

How do governments deal with teachers' unions?

The likely opposition of powerfully organized teachers' unions is one of the central problems facing decentralization reforms in any Latin American country. This opposition is based on the fear that decentralization will break up national collective bargaining, reduce teacher power, and, consequently, result in declining salaries and working conditions. Based on historical experience in such countries as Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, this fear is not without justification. The increased financial responsibility often falls to regional and municipal governments that do not have the financial or human resources to assume the added obligations.

How long does it take to decentralize an educational system?

Decentralization is not created by passing a law. Rather, it must be built by overcoming a series of challenges at the center and the periphery by, for example, changing long-established behaviors and attitudes, developing new skills, convincing people in the center who enjoy exercising power to give it up, permitting and sometimes encouraging people to take creative risks, promoting and rewarding local initiatives, and maintaining continuity with the decentralization reform even as governments change.
Consequently, nations should think in terms of years rather than weeks or even months to see results. The longer time frame is particularly relevant for nations with weak regional and/or local management infrastructures.

What are the basic premises of decentralized schools?
Successful decentralization reform requires at least the following four factors:

Deregulation. Increased flexibility through deregulation is the key to making decentralized schools work effectively.
Semi-autonomy. Truly autonomous schools do not exist. With deregulation comes semi-autonomy, and semi-autonomy can be used effectively only if a local plan exists to guide educational actions, actors, and processes.
Local school governance and leadership. There are two basic models of decision-making authority in a decentralized school. Under the first arrangement, authority is transferred to the school director who receives advice on decision making from an elected school council consisting of parents, teachers, staff, and sometimes, students. Under the second model, authority is transferred to the school council. A power-sharing arrangement exists between the council and the school director, each with defined duties and responsibilities.
Accountability. The decentralized schools model can be effective only if accountability accompanies the transferred authority.

Decentralization has, not only an administrative value, but also a civic dimension, since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will.

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