Over the past year frustrated teachers have gone on strike in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. One of the primary reasons for the strikes is low pay. In some states teachers have to work two and three jobs to pay their bills, as their salaries are not enough to cover basic living expenses.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organization with 37 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. In a 2015 OECD study, teachers salaries in the United States ranked 27th out of 29 countries: #1 was Portugal, and #29 was the Czech Republic (OECD, 2015).
In a survey conducted in May, the New York Times found that nearly three in four adults — 71 percent — considered teacher pay too low, while just 6 percent felt it was too high. Additionally, this survey found strong support for teachers. A recent NPR survey also reported 75% of Americans agree teachers have the right to strike. Notably, that number includes 66% of Republicans, 75% of independents and nearly 90% of Democrats (NPR).
“Our teachers have not been able to have raises for the last several years and I’m certain it’s the same issue that’s going on around the country,” said Marla Hackett of Queen Creek, Ariz., who responded to the survey and said she has a daughter who is a teacher. “They are underappreciated, underpaid and they work ridiculously long hours” (NPR).
In another survey conducted by The Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, 78% of Americans say teachers in this country are underpaid. However, in the same poll fewer of those polled approved of walkouts by teachers to demand pay raises and increased school funding (Associated Press).
Only 50 percent of the survey participants “would support a plan to increase their taxes in order to increase teacher compensation and funding for their local public schools, while 26 percent would oppose such a plan, and 23 percent neither favor nor oppose”(Associated Press).
The majority of polled Americans agreed teachers are underpaid, and most agreed teachers have a right to strike. All good, but what’s the solution? While the AP study found half of those polled opposed to a tax increase for higher teacher salaries, the New York Times study found a majority of Americans would agree to a tax increase to increase teachers salaries.
Dana Goldstein of the New York Times reported in May there are so many districts struggling to fill their classroom with teachers, they are recruiting from overseas. Goldstein reported an example in Arizona where Pendergast Elementary School District has “recruited more than 50 teachers from the Philippines since 2015. They hold J-1 visas, which allow them to work temporarily in the United States, like au pairs or camp counselors, but offer no path to citizenship. More than 2,800 foreign teachers arrived on American soil last year through the J-1, according to the State Department, up from about 1,200 in 2010″ (NY Times).
The national average for teachers salaries is $59,000, but in Arizona it is roughly $40,000. This explains the need to provide J-1 visas for overseas recruitment. What Filipino teachers earn in the Philippines is less than the paltry $40 K offered in Arizona.
One teacher who came from the Philippines took two years to pay back the recruiting organization the fees incurred to get to the US. His first year in Arizona he shared an apartment with five other Filipino teachers.
In response to the recruitment of teachers from overseas, Randy Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers said, “Rather than increase salaries, districts may once again resort to recruiting internationally as a way to solve the teacher shortage” She added that the AFT “will fight for everyone working in our communities and educating our kids to have fair wages, rights and workplace protections regardless of where they’re from, the use of the J-1 visa program to fill long-term shortages is an abuse of an exchange program” (NY Times).
Lora Bartlett, an education professor at the University of California Santa Cruz said, “There are people who have a vested interest in not finding a long-term solution. There is a whole industry that makes money every time a new teacher comes into the country. They don’t make money when a teacher stays” (NY Times). Bartlett has written a book called Migrant Teachers; How American Schools Import Labor.
This brings up an issue of sustainability for students when every two years the revolving door brings in new teachers. This also brings up concern for different cultural norms internationally trained teachers bring to high poverty areas that may affect classroom management, teaching styles, and discipline.
There are plenty of qualified, licensed teachers who graduated from accredited institutions in our classrooms who are committed to students, and are only asking for living wages. I agree with Weingarten that recruiting teachers from overseas is not a solution. If recent data shows a majority of Americans support an increase in teachers salaries, then our elected officials need to make this happen. That’s a viable and necessary solution.
*One final note, the Times reporter who wrote about the overseas recruitment came upon this story accidentally. You can read Dana Goldstein’s account here.
These are my reflections for today.
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