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States are hiring foreign teachers to ease shortages

BAY MINETTE, Ala. — The school system in coastal Baldwin County was short on teachers, especially in courses such as math and science. So short, in fact, that district officials went around the world last year, with expenses paid by a teacher recruiting firm, and brought back Michel Olalo of Manila and 11 other Filipinos to teach along the shores of the Gulf Coast and Mobile Bay and in the communities in between.

School administrators throughout the United States are plucking from an abundance of skilled international teachers, a burgeoning import that critics call shortsighted but educators here and abroad say meets the needs of students and qualified candidates.

The U.S. Department of Education doesn't monitor how many foreigners are working in American classrooms, spokeswoman Elissa Leonard said, but a federal survey released in May confirmed the dearth of math and science teachers, chiefly due to retirement by baby boomers. As far back as five years ago, the National Education Association estimated that up to 10,000 foreigners already were teaching U.S. students in primary and secondary schools.

The largest single sponsor of foreign teachers, according to the NEA, is Visiting International Faculty, which claims it has 1,500 teachers from more than 55 countries in districts in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and California.

Critics view the international teacher market as a quick fix that can frustrate students and foreign hires alike. Janet Lipscomb, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Foley High in Baldwin County, said the students liked the Filipino teachers but some experienced a "communication gap," particularly when students used slang. But Chris Fredrick, an 11-year-old at Cedar Grove Middle School in Decatur, Ga., enjoys the earth science class taught by Uzma Masood, who was recruited from India. "I like her. I like what we do in class," he said.