Reporter’s Notebook

March 14, 2001 3 min read

American Educators Abroad Face Woes Similar to U.S. Counterparts’

American educators abroad wrestle with many of the same issues confronting their colleagues stateside—sometimes to the extreme.

Take language, for example. Some international schools may enroll as few as 200 students who speak as many as 50 different languages."We do language immersion by necessity,” the head of an international school in Egypt said last week.

That head of school, along with about 450 other international school educators and administrators, came together here last week for the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of International Education to explore their mutual needs and concerns.

The American international schools essentially exist to educate U.S. students who live outside the United States. They also enroll foreign nationals and, depending on local laws and customs, children from the host country as well.

Sessions at the March 5-8 conference bore titles strikingly similar to those presented at homegrown forums: “Building a Standard-Based Curriculum,” “Leadership Development for School Heads,” and “Strategies for Integrating Technology Into the K-12 Classroom,” to name a few.

One session was devoted to “The Role of the Administrator in Meeting Needs of a Diverse Student Population.”

Because these are private, independent schools, they tend to be able to admit whomever they want. But over the past several years, educators here said, more parents of special-needs youngsters have been clamoring to enroll their children in the international schools, and more schools are changing their policies to accept them.

Nancy Robinson, of the University of Washington and an adviser to overseas schools, recalled a meeting of school heads in Brazil 15 years ago where the prevailing attitude was that the administrators didn’t want special-needs or gifted students.

“We have come a very long way in the 15 years since,” she told the audience. International school officials “have become much more accepting of people with differences,” she said.

Leaders of the Walworth Barbour American International School in Tel Aviv, Israel, have opened their doors to students who fall under a broadened definition of special needs, according to Robert Sills, the head of school there. For example, the school admitted a boy with cerebral palsy and made such accommodations as carrying him up and down the stairs and including him on the baseball and soccer teams.

In addition, the school has halved tuition for children whose families can’t afford to pay $12,000 annually.

Ochan Kusama Powell, an educator at the International School of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, said she has encountered administrators worldwide whose attitudes run the spectrum from “knowledgeable visionaries” to those who say that LD—learning-disabled—stands for “lazy and dumb.”

She said she formulates “clandestine IEPs,” or individualized education plans, for the administrators to turn their thinking around.

Administrators, meanwhile, often feel under pressure from another quarter to turn away students who are different. “Parents haven’t changed,” lamented one audience member. They have said that “allowing kids who don’t speak English into the school is going to destroy the program,” the administrator said.

Headmaster Clifford Strommen said his school, the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile, has also expanded its admissions policies, and he urged others to do so as well.

Given many international schools’ limited resources, though, Mr. Strommen said school leaders had to be honest enough to admit “we can’t deal with everyone.”

Like administrators within the United States, AAIE members also were in hot pursuit of teachers and administrators.

Larry Dougherty, the headmaster of the American Overseas School of Rome, for example, was looking to hire 10 new teachers for next school year.

To help Mr. Dougherty and other school heads with their staffing needs, International Schools Services, a nonprofit organization in Princeton, N.J., set up camp at the AAIE conference. The organization screens prospects and invites those who pass muster to the annual meeting.

About 300 teachers and administrators were on hand for interviews last week, according to Jane Larsson, the director of educational staffing for the services group. That followed the 1,000 job seekers the organization rounded up for the international administrators who visited Washington two weeks earlier in search of personnel.

The recruitment enterprise at the AAIE, Ms. Larsson said, is “part of an elaborate four-week tour around the states” for the members.

—Karen Diegmueller

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Reporter’s Notebook