With Good U.S. Teachers Available, Why Hire Foreign-Born?

Published on August 6th, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
May 13, 2012

Local public school districts, victimized by state and federal budget crunches, are struggling to keep experienced teachers on their payrolls. In addition, school administrators are trying to maintain a well balanced student curriculum that includes science, music and art, subjects that have been pared back during the deepening deficits.

In California where I recently taught, teachers have for the fourth straight year received the dreaded “reduction in force” letter which arrives by certified mail. School districts sent out 20,000 such warning notices in March alerting teachers that because of continued California funding shortfalls, their positions may be eliminated. Governor Jerry Brown recently announced the deficit at $16 billion

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office surveyed 230 districts and found that roughly 75 percent of teachers who received layoff warnings were either never laid off or laid off and called back to work, according to a 27-page report that recommended wholesale changes in the layoff process.

Although only roughly a quarter of those teachers actually lost their jobs (about 32,000), the so called RIF letter has a devastating impact on morale and diminishes dedication to the teaching task for the year’s remaining weeks while the teachers await their fate.

Three thousand miles away in New York, similar conditions prevail. The state Council of School Superintendents estimated that 4,000 teachers would be fired, 7,000 unfilled positions eliminated and 4 percent of administrative staff let go. Among the schools that participated in the survey, 80 percent reported fewer teaching professionals and larger class sizes.

Despite thousands of recently fired and therefore available to be rehired teachers, various immigration employment websites claiming a U.S. “shortage” list instructional openings in New York and California as well as many other states.

But with so many unemployed American educators and other professionals out of work who would eagerly take any teaching job, why is the first port in this fabricated shortage to bring in foreign-born? Non-immigrant visas like the H-1B, supposedly temporary but ultimately permanent, facilitate importing overseas workers. Once the employer declares that no qualified American is available, he won’t be questioned about why he didn’t walk the extra mile to find an experienced American. These visas open up the global labor market and allow the employer to pick from eager candidates willing to trade the opportunity to work in the U.S. for a salary low by American standards but higher than what he earned in his native country. And since a job in the U.S. may be his first step on the path to citizenship, overseas candidates have additional incentive.

More than 10,000 foreign born teachers are working in, to name but a few cities, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco. They mostly teach math, science, English as a second language and special education.

According to a study titled A Report to the National Education Association on the Trends in Foreign Teacher Recruitment, new instructors are often sent to "less desirable poor and rural school districts." In other words, poor kids get the short end of the stick—again.

The influx of foreign trained and educated teachers is not in children’s best interests. Under no circumstances can teachers without U.S. classroom experience be immediately effective.

One way to put unemployed Americans back to work would be to revise state teaching credentialing requirements. Private sector work experience should qualify as a valid substitute to the worthless education classes teachers are now forced to take. As long as districts are still hiring, and the evidence is that they are despite the highly publicized layoffs, adjusted credentialing standards would open up a new and highly skilled pool of teachers. Then, put the new teachers to good use in the nation’s struggling classrooms.


Joe Guzzardi, a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. His columns have been syndicated since 2008. Contact him at [email protected]

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