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The Need for a National Teacher Register 0

Posted on February 05, 2010 by dmayer

Filipino teachers placed in “servitude” while working in New Orleans schools.

This is the story that led to the creation of the National Teacher Register, but it wasn”t the first abuse of teachers or our profession. At GSA, we”re working to make sure it doesn”t happen again. Our kids deserve great teachers who are free to think, speak, and live without fear.

The seed for a National Teacher Register was planted when I began to notice that my profession – teaching – was being slowly but surely co-opted by non-educators. When I noticed Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, listed as one of Time magazines” 100 most influential people in 2008, I gasped. She has no education expertise and is quite frankly a teacher-basher. Then, Time magazine pictured Michelle Rhee on its cover as the one to “fix America”s schools” when she was appointed as “Chancellor” of Washington, D.C. schools. Like Kopp, Rhee has no education expertise or even a smidgen of education training. How did two people who have no training or expertise in education achieve such status? This is a clear case of “it”s not what you know, but who you know” at work at the highest level – a great lesson for kids to learn early on, I guess.

Kopp is princess-like compared to Rhee”s witch-like, slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners persona. What Kopp and Rhee do have in common, besides a perceived, yet unexplained, hatred of education professionals, is super rich, influential supporters like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the good folks at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Walmart, Dell, and many other multi-national corporations. (Check out our Education Watch.)

The door was flung wide open when the teaching profession was deregulated under No Child Left Behind during the Bush administration. While teachers, depending on their unions for protection, have dithered, corporate America has wasted no time in marginalizing excellent educators right out of their own profession. When a profession is deregulated, many not fluent in English, had been unscrupulously recruited to teach in New Orleans soon after hurricane Katrina, placed in “virtual servitude,” and swindled out of millions of dollars, I was propelled into action. That”s when I thought a National Teacher Register was not only expedient, but essential to ensuring that our children receive an excellent education from professional teachers. This is the story:

As much as anything, post-Katrina turmoil throughout Louisiana may have helped the recruiting firm Universal Placement International (UPI) establish a foothold statewide over the past two years. The firm placed over 300 teachers in New Orleans. Filipino teachers, who would make about $4,000 annually teaching in the Philippines, were promised as much as $40,000 their first year in Louisiana — a first year”s teacher”s salary in some districts.

The Filipino teachers paid UPI $16,000 apiece to find and keep a teaching job in the United States. In addition, they were charged a $1,000 “marketing fee,” a $3,920 processing fee, a $595 evaluation and transcript fee” and a $1,745 yearly “visa renewal fee.” They were charged excessive rent. Some teachers devoted much of their salary to debt payments. For one, those payments ate up nearly his entire take-home paycheck of $2,100 a month: After $1,950 in loan payments and rent, he was left with $150, leaving him precious little to live on and send home to his family. UPI also held visas and refused to let the teachers travel home to visit their families.

Louisiana school districts may not have acted responsibly in dealing with UPI and may even have been complicit by accepting large sums of money from the recruiting firm.

East Baton Rouge schools” general counsel Domoine Rutledge says the district “does not have any formal relationship” with Universal, but records in the case show that the company in 2007 wrote a $20,241.90 check to the district that equaled the cost of sending seven district officials to Manila. Rutledge calls it an unrelated, “unconditional donation” to the district. He also says East Baton Rouge severed its ties to Universal after learning about the teachers” poor treatment. “We in no way want to be complicit in the ill treatment of anybody.”

You can read the entire story in USA Today 10/27/2009. From that article:

On Oct. 20, AFT filed a lengthier complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. The unions allege the companies kept the teachers in “virtual servitude” by holding onto their U.S. work visas unless they kept paying inflated fees, commissions and rents.

The situation underscores the vulnerabilities of a small but growing corner of teacher recruitment: the H-1B visa program, which last year brought an estimated 6,000 teachers to the USA to fill hard-to-staff jobs in subjects such as math, foreign languages and special education. An estimated 19,000 migrant teachers work in U.S. schools, according to AFT, which last month warned of “widespread and egregious” abuses of imported teachers.

“I”m very concerned that there are more places like this, says American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Even if it was an isolated incident, it would be horrible, but my hunch right now is that it”s not isolated.”

The American Federation of Teachers estimates that over 19,000 migrant teachers fill U.S. classrooms each year, and he says it is likely that the Filipino episode is not an isolated incident. In addition, thousands more college graduates are employed as “highly qualified teachers” even though they have no education education or training. When so many excellent professional teachers go jobless each year, these practices seem unwarranted. The National Teacher Register will level the playing field for professionals by giving teacher candidates and school administrators a centralized place to meet.

If a National Teacher Register had been in operation at that time, Louisiana school districts could have access to many quality professional American teachers who would have been happy to heed the call to serve in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. The truth is we have many unemployed teachers in this country. We don”t need to recruit from the Philippines or other countries. What is lacking is a national register to locate teachers quickly and efficiently.

I like to think that if a National Teacher Register had sprouted a decade or two ago, Kopp and Rhee would have been promptly side-lined for their education ineptness. No Child Left Behind would not have devastated our public schools and the teaching profession. Public schools would be flourishing with great professional teachers who love their work. Teachers would be united around something more substantial and meaningful than an ineffective union. The super, filthy rich would not be working so diligently on their own behalf to privatize our public schools. And, the story I”m about to tell would not have happened – 300+ Filipino teachers would not have been recruited to teach in New Orleans and swindled out of their dignity along with millions of their dollars.

Of course, the reality is that we since the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans and corporations, schools have been seriously underfunded. Wealthy Americans and corporations have interceded with their questionable venture philanthropy, buying themselves the opportunity to tell educators how to do their jobs. A National Teacher Register is a small step to combating huge problems in our education system, but all incredible journeys start with a single small step.’