Report suggests foreign-born teachers are taking over schools

A new report (pdf) in the increasingly popular “education reform” genre was released this week—and it’s one of the odder ones.

“Importing Educators” by the American Federation of Teachers documents what the teachers’ union argues is a rising trend: International teachers joining faculties at America’s public schools. Between 2002 and 2007, the report estimates, the number of foreign-educated teachers rose from 14,943 to 19,329.

Acknowledging that this is still a small trend (the New York Times, in its article, notes that there are more than 3 million teachers in the United States), the authors assure readers that we should nonetheless be alarmed as international teachers colonize American public schools like aliens in a B movie.

It should be recalled that nurse migration to the U.S. began as a small and seemingly innocuous trend in the 1950s. In 2002, one in three nurses hired in the U.S. was foreign educated.

Curiously, what the report doesn’t address is the impact of the trend on learning. It’s hard to be alarmed when readers don’t understand if this trend is helping or hurting American students.

Instead, the report spends pages and pages documenting the treatment of such teachers by recruiting agencies and school districts. It examines documents like an Aurora Public School District contract that appears to assign the responsibility for providing health insurance to a recruiting agency instead of the district—a situation the report finds untenable.

To be sure, the report points out a few particularly egregious cases—the worst being a 2004 indictment of two recruiting agencies and three district officials from El Paso, Texas, in a foreign-born teacher scandal. Teachers from the Philippines paid as much as $10,000 through high-interest loans from the recruiting agency, only to find out many of them didn’t actually have jobs.

The teachers were housed in unfinished properties in groups of 10 to 15 and had to ask permission to leave the housing. They were forbidden to own any form of transportation. The recruiters confiscated the teachers’ original transcripts, certifications and credentials so that the teachers could not find jobs on their own. The teachers were also told that they would be deported if they tried to find their own job or complained about not having a job.

But, not surprisingly, protectionism oozes out of the report, largely in complaints that foreign-born teachers drive down wages and conditions.

The reserve pool of [education] labor has become global, and employers are increasingly able to search on any continent for workers willing to accept the wages and working conditions on offer in our local communities.

Are America’s kids soon destined to be taught their ABC’s by third-world immigrants? That goes unproven in the report. The question is: Does it matter?

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