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US schools look to PH for quick fix to teacher shortage

WASHINGTON D.C. The Philippines is becoming the “go-to” solution for American schools facing an acute shortage of teachers, a recent report said.

In a Sept. 3 posting, an NBC News article by Adam Edelman said public school systems from California to South Carolina are struggling to fill vacancies. “School districts and state governments across the U.S. are combating the worsening teacher shortage crisis that is expected to peak this school year with new creative policy solutions,” wrote Edelman, “and they’re not exactly going by the textbook.”

NaFFAA’s Bernie Benito helps answer questions from newly arrived Filipino teachers in Las Vegas

The report cited the experience of Clark County in Nevada, which has brought over 81 teachers from the Philippines starting this school year. 

“There is a shortage of teachers overall, and there is a crisis when it comes to the number of special education teachers available for hire,” NBC News quoted the district’s chief recruitment officer Michael Gentry. 

Sacramento public schools brought over 12 teachers to California from the Philippines last year and another six for the current school year.

The NBC News report cited a study by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), an education think tank, that purportedly showed demand (nearly 300,000 positions public school districts need filled) outpacing supply (just over 196,000 teachers who are certified in their states are expected make up the teaching force) by more than 100,000 for the first time ever.

It further warned the crisis is expected to continue worsening in coming years. “Pay is down, support is down and working conditions have gotten worse,” explained Linda Darling-Hammond, LPI president and a professor of education at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. 

The Philippines has been “ideal” for American schools in urgent need of teachers. Filipinos speak fluent English and the Philippine educational system mirrors that of the United States (e.g., the country’s education department recently moved all public schools to a K-12 system). And they’re even more poorly paid and overworked back home. 

Edelman’s report included an interview with Ligaya Avenida, the Fil-Am CEO of a recruitment company that’s been providing teachers for California and Nevada school districts. NBC News quoted her as saying that she’s recruited 200 Filipino mentors for the 2016-17 school season, up from just 40 the previous school year.

The teachers come to the U.S. on J-1 visas, a nonimmigrant visa category designed to promote cultural exchange. In the past, the Filipino teachers were brought in under the H-1B visa – usually used for specialty occupations – but this category has been oversubscribed so there’s a significant wait for new visas to become available. 

Philippine teachers, who make on average between $5,000 and $7,000 annually back home, are easily attracted by the pay in American public schools.

States are hustling to address the teacher shortage in their respective districts but many believe it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Hiring foreign teachers should only be a stop-gap measure, argued Darling-Hammond.

“It’s a temporary solution, a way to get teachers in the classrooms,” she said. “What you really want to do is to build a strong, sustainable teaching force.”

 

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