Philippine labor exports include maids, nurses and… U.S. math teachers?

Manila, PHILIPPINES: Teacher Leonora Jusay gives a lesson to her 59 students of a Grade 2 class, packed in small classroom that was a former toilet of the government-run Commonwealth Elementary School in suburban Manila in 2006. The dire situation in this overcrowded public school has become symbolic of the Philippines' educational system as a whole -- too few resources used to educate too many students in too little time.

The Washington Post is reporting that a school district just outside D.C. (Prince George's County) may owe foreign teachers $5.9 million in unpaid fees.

That's the news in D.C. But for me, the news was buried halfway down the story in this sentence:

"The vast majority of the county’s foreign teachers are from the Philippines."

Turns out more than 10 percent of the school system's staff is Filipino, most of them teaching science and math. There are so many Filipino teachers -- nearly 1,000 -- that they've formed their own all-Filipino advocacy group.

There's more. In 2009 at least, Baltimore's school system has 600 Filipino teachers -- hailed here by the Manila press. Other local U.S. news stories show Filipino math and science teacher hires in Alabama, California and other states.

Who knew?

Filipinos famously leave their country to work as maids, laborers, nurses and much more. They send home a staggering $1.5 billion, which has become a pillar of the national economy.

Given their English-language skills, it stands to reason that Filipinos would be willing to quadruple their teaching salaries back home to work in the U.S. (USA Today reported in 2009 that 6,000 foreign teachers fill "hard-to-staff" jobs in the U.S.)

Still, if this isn't indicative of America's worrisome shortage of math and science teachers, I'm not sure what is. All these hires took place during a period of serious unemployment in the U.S.

And fewer good science and math teachers will mean fewer students capable of supporting America's science/tech industry, a problem Bill Gates has urged Congress to remedy.

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