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Hidden Outrages in Overseas Teacher Recruitment

A new report released by the American Federation of Teachers reminds us of a topic education writers like me almost never address---the unseemly side of the recruitment of teachers abroad for U.S. schools. The AFT report, "Importing Educators: Causes and Consequences of International Teacher Recruitment," has some shocking disclosures, and deserves a close reading.

The report says that one recruiter for overseas-educated teachers in Newark, N.J., forced recruits to sign a contract obligating them to kick back 25 percent of their salaries to the recruiter. Other recruiters gouged the teachers they were allegedly helping with 60 percent interest rate loans. Some forbade them to own cars. Some placed the newly arrived teachers in overcrowded, unfinished housing, the report said.

The AFT was smart to start their press release on the report with this true statement: "The growing number of overseas-educated teachers in U.S. schools has put many talented educators in classrooms." Then it added the concerns that the unscrupulous recruiting has raised.

This is something for school boards and citizens to investigate in cities that have recruited many teachers from abroad. It is another reason why we should celebrate groups like Teach For America that are working hard to persuade more Americans to consider teaching in those districts that have the greatest shortages.

The best teacher I ever saw in action, the man who turned me into an education reporter, was educated in Bolivia, and taught there until he moved to the U.S. when he was 34. He was NOT recruited by anyone. His wife hoped that moving him to America would persuade him to stop teaching, which she thought was beneath him. His name is Jaime Escalante. If anyone had tried any of these recruiter stunts on him, they would have regretted it for the rest of their lives. He was, and still is in retirement, a tough guy, who spent 10 years learning English and redoing his college education so he could teach here. I am sure the AFT will be very happy if we get more like him, and stop this exploitation of people who want to help kids.

By Jay Mathews  | September 14, 2009; 6:25 PM ET
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Good article on an important subject. These recruitment policies are very dismaying. At some time you might also consider a companion article on international recruitment policies of staff to work on cruise ships. Am currently in Indonesia, where it's common to hear stories of individuals paying thousands of dollars to dubious recruiters for a chance to work in the cruise line industry. For the few who find work, they often (after commissions) net less than 750 dollars a month, including those who work on Miami and other US home port based ships.

Posted by: anjouan81 | September 14, 2009 7:50 PM | Report abuse

for anjouan81---thanks for the wise comment. It is nice to know the Struggle is being read on the other side of the world.

Posted by: jaymathews | September 15, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

As an AP English teacher here in Korea, I have seen both parties to this issue; many wonderful recruiters, and many unseemly ones. It is buyer beware in the marketplace.

Posted by: ericpollock | September 16, 2009 8:50 PM | Report abuse

The real underlying issue is, why must school districts resort to recruiting foreign teachers to meet their staffing requirements? The answer is, quite obviously, because there are very few qualified people who want to get paid chicken feed and put of up with the disfunctional culture that is today's public school system.

Posted by: kschur1 | September 17, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it is a matter of "resorting" but simply using all the resources available to recruiters to find qualified people for teaching vacancies.

Posted by: ericpollock | September 17, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse

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