Recruitment & Retention

School Districts Look to Philippines to Fill Teacher Vacancies

By Brenda Iasevoli — July 25, 2017 4 min read
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Clark County School District in Nevada recently hired more than 80 special education teachers from the Philippines.

The Las Vegas district isn’t alone in turning to the island nation to fill openings, particularly in shortage areas like special education. School districts from Los Angeles to New York City have for decades recruited Filipino teachers. (Check out this Education Week Post on the factors that pushed Arizona to hire teachers from the Philippines.) But some critics say this is the wrong way to go for solving the teacher shortage crisis.

District leaders from Clark County, Las Vegas flew to the Philippines in April to interview 250 candidates, according to Principal Joseph Uy, who took the trip. Uy says a district from Texas had been recruiting there the week before Clark County’s arrival, and that the week after their departure a California district arrived. (The Sacramento Bee recently reported that Sacramento City Unified School District hired 12 special education teachers from the Philippines last school year, and seven more this year.)

Clark County ended up hiring 81 special education teachers who arrived in the U.S. earlier this month on J-1 visas, non-immigrant visas issued so foreign nationals can study or work in the U.S.

Each year, more than 300,000 people from 200 different countries come to the U.S. on J-1 visas to work as au pairs, professors, or teachers, or to attend school. The teachers can stay for two years, then apply for a two-year extension.

The upsides for districts are many: Filipinos often can speak English and Spanish, and their education is similar to what we experience in the U.S. (The Philippines’ school system was set up by American colonizers.) All together, these factors pave a fairly smooth path for Filipino teachers seeking credentials in the U.S.

Uy said he interviewed eight teachers for an opening at his school, Ferron Elementary, and wanted to hire every single one. “I would prefer the Filipino teachers’ years of experience to hiring substitutes with no teaching background and no bag of tricks in their back pocket,” he said. “Just because you were born and raised here doesn’t mean you are qualified to teach.”

There is some skepticism about the lasting viability of this approach. “Recruiting accomplished teachers from other countries is a short-term fix,” Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute and education professor at Stanford University, said in an email. “Longer-term approaches are needed that will attract highly qualified teachers who are committed to staying in districts for more than a few years.”

Darling-Hammond suggested a range of strategies, including partnerships with nearby universities to create teacher residencies or “grow-your-own” pathways into teaching that help young people and paraprofessionals who live in the community to become teachers. (In this Education Week article, Sarah D. Sparks takes on the question of whether the teacher shortage can actually be solved by residencies. She reports that they are more likely to produce teachers who remain in the profession longer than four years.)

Other approaches that help with recruitment and retention, according to Darling-Hammond, include raising pay, offering housing, improving working conditions, and mentoring new teachers.

Uy admits that hiring teachers from the Philippines is a temporary fix. But he argues that the competition for a dwindling pool of U.S. teachers appears insurmountable in the short term. Clark County now has about 400 teacher vacancies for the 2017-18 year, including about 150 openings in special education.

“Even with partnering with local universities, even with alternative routes to licensure, even with Teach for America, and all the job fairs we go to in all the states across the country, we still can’t find enough teachers,” Uy said. “Everywhere we go, we are competing with recruiters from other states. Hawaii was here last week recruiting our teachers at a big conference at a hotel on the Strip. The state of Hawaii. Not a district, the entire state was here to recruit in Las Vegas. I said to my boss, ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

Uy would like the state to pursue raising pay and promoting the teaching profession among elementary and high school students. The first would be up to state leaders. But the second Uy plans to take up directly with the human resources department at Clark County. High school kids could volunteer to help out in classrooms and even earn credit for tutoring kids in math and reading. Uy would volunteer his schools and his services.

Once young people experience what it’s like to help others and to feel needed, he says, they’ll sign up to become teachers. (You can read about how school districts are working to entice high school students into the teaching profession here and here.)

While Uy considers the hiring of teachers from the Philippines a good strategy in the short term, he’s convinced long-term success lies in finding a way to persuade local young people on the merits of teaching.

“Vegas is my home now,” said Uy, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 17. “I want my Las Vegas, my Nevada, to keep our own kids, it’s a family thing. I want my kids, and by that I mean all kids—African American, Chinese, Filipino, Hispanic, white—to stay home, stay here, this is a good place. I don’t want them going to California. Not that there’s anything wrong with that state, but I want them to stay here and give back. If they were born and raised here, they will have more at stake in helping the community. Their lives as teachers will be so much more rewarding if they can say, ‘The kid I’m teaching used to be me.’ How cool is that?”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.