Trafficked Filipino Teachers in the USA

I just read an article about something new and shocking to me – qualified teachers of mathematics (and other subjects) from the Philiphines who are  recruited on one-year contracts to teach in USA public schools, but often end up in appalling working and employment conditions:

“Between 2007 and 2009, 350 Filipino teachers arrived in Louisiana, excited for the opportunity to teach math and science in public schools throughout the state. They’d been recruited through a company called Universal Placement International Inc., which professes on its website to “successfully place teachers in different schools thru out [sic] the United States.” As a lawsuit later revealed, however, their journey through the American public school system was fraught with abuse.

According to court documents, Lourdes Navarro, chief recruiter and head of Universal Placement, made applicants pay a whopping $12,550 in interview and “processing fees” before they’d even left the Philippines. But the exploitation didn’t stop there. Immediately after the teachers landed in LAX, Navarro coerced them into signing a contract paying her 10 percent of their first and second years’ salaries; she threatened those who refused with instant deportation. Even after they started at their schools, Navarro kept the teachers dependent on her by only obtaining them one-year visas before exorbitantly charging them for an annual renewal fee. She also confiscated their passports.”

The article continues with an interesting analysis of the underlying problems in education and the neoliberal economy:

The idea that new teachers should be imported from halfway around the world for yearlong stints, knowing no background about the communities they are entering and the content relevant to them, is only justified if the teacher is reduced to an instrument of standardized information transmission. And if teachers are just such instruments, why not search the global market for the cheapest, most malleable ones possible? […]for corporate recruiters and their district clients, finding the right match for a school is not about teacher quality or experience, but rather cost and expendability.  The phenomenon of teacher trafficking, then, doesn’t rest entirely on recruiters’ mercenary tendencies or districts’ drive to cheapen their labor. It also rests on the larger neoliberal conception of workers. In this case, teachers become moveable parts, switched out in accordance with the iron laws of supply and demand in order to more efficiently output successful test scores, whose value comes to represent students themselves.

There is, however, something that worries me in the article. It also talks of “Teach For the Philippines” and its mother scheme, Teach for America, as a “global empire”. Although I can see how this scheme is part of the same complex of problems – not enough teachers in poorer countries, exacerbated by richer countries “poaching” teachers from poor countries – the disparaging analysis of “Teach for X” took me aback. I know only very good things about a similar scheme in Bulgaria. I would like to read more – if you read this and want to recommend me something to read about “Teach for X”, please do.


Categories: The Idle Ethnographer

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