Salamat at Paalam*
For six years, Prince George's County Public Schools, a Maryland district just outside our nation's capital, has aggressively recruited foreign teachers (predominantly from the Philippines) to teach in PG County in order to help the district address its desperate need of Highly Qualified teachers (NCLB-style) in difficult-to-staff areas like science, math, and special education. And the recruiting paid off: Hundreds of foreign national teachers answered the call, in a large part because of the opportunity (heavily underlined by PGCPS recruiters) that a H1-B visa (or ?work visa?) could lead in the long term to a permanent resident status (or ?green card?). Put aside for a moment the problem with attracting teachers via the lure of a potential ?green card? (something the district can in no way ensure). The biggest issue with the program?and why it fell under investigation by the Department of Labor?is that it charged would-be teachers thousands of dollars in illegal fees (for visa processing, placement, attorneys fees, etc.). The Department of Labor called the practice a ?violations of willful nature.?
This DOL investigation (which wrapped up yesterday when PGCPS dropped its appeal) found quite the rat's nest at the program's core. To start, the overseas hiring practices of PG County, while well-intentioned, were completely ill-managed. More importantly, though, PGCPS has effectively condemned hundred of teachers to not only lose their jobs but to also lose their visas?and thus their ability to stay in the country. There is no winner in this. PGCPS, with a budget shortfall of $155 million, will have to pay more than $6 million in violation fines and fee reimbursements and will have to scramble to replace the departing teachers. Teachers who have been a big part of their school and of their community for years will be abruptly terminated and left with few options but to leave the country, disrupting the schools cohesion and development.
But, as is far too often the case, the big losers here are the kids of PGCPS. Those millions paid by the district surely could be used for something that would better service students?especially in a district with a yawning budget gap. How many of these kids will not find, when they re-enter the classroom in September, the math, science, or special ed teacher with whom they had connected the year before? And this is just the beginning! Hundreds of teachers will be slowly, gradually, pulled out of the classroom as their visas expire, maybe sometimes in the middle of the school year, potentially undermining built-up improvements in student achievement made in PGCPS. Replacing these teachers will not be an easy task either. How many kids will have to deal with less qualified or committed teachers or even long-term substitutes?
As a high school teacher in PGCPS, I have enjoyed for two years the professionalism, dedication, and skills with dealing with students demonstrated by my Filipino co-teacher whose visa expires in three weeks and has just learned of his fate. I was looking forward to working with him again next year. I do hope that a solution will be found to address this situation. Until then, this is a sad day for many people in Prince George's County and this is a sad day for the kids of Prince George's County Public Schools.
* ?Thank you and goodbye? in Filipino
?Laurent Rigal, Education Pioneers Fellow, Thomas B. Fordham Institute