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International teachers fill district shortages

More districts are searching internationally to find candidates for difficult-to-fill math and science positions

At the end of last year, Superintendent Shannon Goodsell of Casa Grande Union High School District in Arizona had 19 teacher openings, in part due to turnover and newly-retired teachers, and zero applications.

After embarking on a statewide search, administrators in the rural district of 3,800 students found many other Arizona districts faced the same problem. And as of mid-October, some 500 vacant teaching positions were posted on the state Department of Education job board.

When a national search attracted only a few new candidates, Casa Grande administrators hired a consulting agency to search for teachers overseas.

Avenida International Consultants gave administrators videos of candidates from the Philippines teaching in classrooms. Administrators then conducted interviews with the candidates via Skype to assess their skills and English-language abilities. Goodsell hired 11 math and science teachers, who relocated and started work this fall.

“We’re very pleased in regard to who we’ve been able to attract to our small district,” Goodsell says. “The teachers have done a great service for our kids and community.” All of the Filipino teachers have bachelor’s degrees, and many have master’s degrees and are working on doctorates in the subject they are teaching, he adds.

Math and science

U.S. schools have hired teachers from abroad for decades. But as baby boomers retire and school enrollment steadily increases, more districts are searching internationally to find candidates for difficult-to-fill math and science positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that districts will need to hire nearly half a million teachers by the end of the decade.

The American Federation of Teachers estimated that 19,000 international teachers were working in the U.S. on temporary visas in 2007, and that the number was growing steadily.

For example, Baltimore City Schools hired 108 teachers from the Philippines to fill shortages in 2005. By 2009, more than 600 Filipino teachers were working in the district, many in schools labeled “persistently dangerous” by the state, according to the AFT.

Goodsell blames the teacher shortage on a lack of funding for public schools. Arizona consistently rates in the bottom 5 percent in the nation for money spent on public education, he says.

“I would like to be able to have homegrown teachers work for the district and pay them a decent wage to maintain them throughout their careers,” Goodsell says. “But that’s not occurring in most of the United States or in the state of Arizona.”

He recommends administrators communicate with state legislators to advocate for increasing funding for public schools and teacher salaries.