Last week, the Lodi News-Sentinel reported that Tokay High School principal Erik Sandstrom will leave for the Philippines on February 13th to recruit teachers to fill vacancies in high school math and science departments. [Lodi Unified Looking Across World for Faculty Positions, by Sara Cardine, Lodi News-Sentinel, January 24, 2006]
The Lodi Unified School District has a total need for eight math, three life science and two physical science teachers.
In several conversations that I had with Len Casanega, Lodi Unified assistant superintendent of Personnel, he assured me that the district has made—and will continue to make—vigorous efforts to fill these positions within the United States.
To date, however, and to the disappointment of the school administrators, those efforts have failed. Having no better immediate option and unsatisfied with filling the jobs with long-term substitutes, the district has decided to search 7,000 miles away.
While it is possible that Sandstrom will return without any candidates he deems worthy of recommending, the more likely outcome is that sometime during the school year 2006-07, the district will have several newly arrived teachers direct from the Philippines.
The question before us is whether hiring abroad is a good or a bad idea. Since the individuals aren't on the job yet, a completely definitive answer is not possible.
But there is evidence that indicates that, if nothing else, bringing teachers in from half way around the world is a gamble.
And we're not talking about a $20 Super Bowl wager. At risk is the quality of education for our children in the crucial fields of math and science. Also at danger over the long term are the careers of current and future teachers.
Although I have confidence in Casanega's guarantee that no effort has been spared, I am mystified as to why these positions cannot be filled.
HealthQuest Enterprises, the recruitment firm that is underwriting Sandstrom's travel expenses, describes itself on its website as "one of the nation's most experienced providers of foreign-trained and highly skilled professional workers."
But HealthQuest, owned and operated by Filipinos, is also a commission sales operation. When teachers get placed, it gets paid. Logically, HealthQuest will heavily promote its candidates.
Second, if the primary desire of these prospective teachers was to instruct young Americans that might bode well for the experiment. But sadly, teaching is a secondary goal.
Most of these would-be teachers are primarily motivated by a desire to get out of the Philippines and never look back. The three-year nonimmigrant work visa they'll receive when they come to Lodi means, in their eyes, "mission accomplished."
Selfishly, the Philippines makes a cottage industry out of getting its citizens working in the U.S. so that they can send money back home. Seven million Filipinos now living in America sent a total of $6 billion in remittances to their home country in 2004.
Human labor is the Philippines biggest export.
To help you understand more fully how the Filipino-U.S teacher placement system works, read this recent analysis written by former Peace Corp volunteer and Minneapolis-based school social worker Dawn Blankenship.
Recalling her experiences in the Philippines when she attended a special seminar designed to sign up teachers for placement abroad, Blankenship in her essay titled "Returning Home from the Philippines", described as "alarming" the numbers of Filipino teachers committed to an agency for the purpose of placing them in American schools.
Blankenship commented that while in the Philippines she spoke to a Special Education class where more than 50% of the students—by a show of hands— were enrolled only because it presented a chance to escape to America.
"I am passionate about doing school social work and working with students with disabilities. It's hard for me to comprehend that people are not doing this work with the same interest at heart."
In conclusion, Blankenship found that the Filipino university system is "different" from the United States—high school graduation occurs at the 10th grade and college is the equivalent of an Associate of Arts degree—and that the soon-to-be U.S. teachers are unprepared for their stateside teaching responsibilities in most every respect.
Upon departing the Philippines, a somber Blankenship wrote:
"I leave here with a deep sense of appreciation for what Filipinos give up to teach in America and yet I also have a profound sense of sadness for the impact this has on the education of Filipino children, especially students with disabilities."
When I spoke with Blankenship, we agreed that wanting to get out of the Philippines is understandable. And those who leave cannot be faulted for doing so, even though it creates a brain drain that harms the country in the long run.
But is hiring inexperienced Filipino teachers the right move for U.S. schools? The results for schools that have done it are mixed. Some claim success while others, like Las Vegas and Baltimore, have had sorry outcomes.
Next week, I will look at the growing trend in education to hire overseas. And I'll share some reservations to the concept registered by Lodi Education Association president Sue Kenmotsu and individual district teachers.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.