To combat a growing shortage of certified math and science teachers nationwide, at least one company is using videoconferencing technology to link states and school districts with prospective teachers overseas.

The program provides a quick fix for schools scrambling to fill vacant teaching slots with highly qualified candidates as required under the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act. But the nation’s largest teachers union warns the practice does little to erase the high-risk, low-reward stigma that has driven many home-grown educators to work in the private sector.

“It’s understandable that a lot of states are turning to this type of Band-Aid solution,” said Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the National Education Association (NEA). “But it’s a question of, how are [schools] going to deal with this [problem] in the long term?”

To staunch the bleeding at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., Principal Leroy Miller turned to an unusual source to find a new science teacher when someone suddenly quit during the first week of school: India.

Miller tried to find a replacement through all the usual sources, but without luck. “It was getting difficult to find someone,” he said.

The break came when Robert Beach, superintendent of the Lake Ridge school district, learned of an organization called USA Employment, which links teachers in India to jobs in American schools.

The Texas-based company invites schools that have been unable to fill teaching vacancies with highly qualified candidates to take advantage of the service, which links school administrators with prescreened educators from India who have expressed an interest in working in the United States.

The administrators conduct interviews with the candidates by phone, web camera, or videoconferencing technologies set up by the company and make their selections based on the results of these “virtual” interviews, said Jay Kumar, the company’s founder. Before embarking on the interview process, clients also might choose to view several video introductions prepared by potential teachers on the company’s web site.

The organization already has placed teachers in 25 schools within 15 different school districts, Kumar said. Other states that reportedly have benefited from the service include Texas and Connecticut.

The service seems to have received a warm reception in Houston. Educators there just tapped the company to help fill 50 teaching vacancies slated to begin at the end of February, Kumar said. In Houston’s case, the company even arranged to fly a representative from the district to India, where the official was allowed to make his selections in person. But that is only the practice in instances where a district is looking to fill 10 or more vacancies.

For smaller requests, the service relies on its technology.

According to Kumar, the service works because technology allows principals—who normally are confined to making site-based hiring decisions—to look beyond a shrinking national talent pool and consider candidates from abroad, many of whom have more experience, more education, and are better qualified to fill the positions.

“Technology is making the world so small,” he said. “It’s a global village now.”

At Calumet, Miller arranged interactive online interviews with five job candidates.

Frances Pathak, a science teacher with more than 24 years of experience in the city of Bhopal, stood out during the interviews, which were conducted through a special hookup at the Northwest Indiana Education Center in Highland, Ind.

“She impressed us the most,” Miller told the Post-Tribune of Merrillville, Ind.

He and Maryanne Nicks, head of the 650-student high school’s science department, conducted the long-distance interview.

Pathak arrived at Calumet in November, about a month after she was hired.

According to Kumar, it takes up to 15 days for the employee to secure an H1B visa, which enables him or her to stay in the United States for three years with the possibility of a three-year extension. The visa and the extension are important, Kumar said, because it can take up to four years before the employee receives his or her green card, which allows the employee to stay in the country indefinitely.

It would be a mistake for stakeholders to use international recruitment as a means of ignoring worsening problems associated with teacher shortages, NEA’s Kaufman warns. Instead, the nation’s education leaders must make a concerted effort to address such widespread issues as low teacher salaries, poor working environments, and weak educator-assistance programs.

“Funding and training really need to be stepped up,” he said. “To really fill these positions, there needs to be a long-term commitment.”

For Pathak, the transition has been challenging. She brought her 15-year-old son, Aviral, but left her husband and daughter behind in Bhopal, where she said her career had reached a glass ceiling.

“She’s learning about American children, but there’s no question about her ability and knowledge of the subject,” Principal Miller said. “And she has a real sincerity about her that the kids respond to.”

Pathak is living in Hobart, Ind., in an apartment owned by a fellow Calumet High teacher who brings her to school every day. Another teacher takes her shopping until she can buy a car.

After she arrived, Calumet teachers and staff members surprised her with a welcome shower. They provided items to stock her new home, such as kitchen appliances and supplies.

“They thought of everything,” Pathak said. “There was even a cake with an American flag.”

USA Employment recruits its teachers mostly from India. But the company also has offices in Mexico, from which it already has placed two bilingual teachers in Houston schools.

“It’s been a very delightful cultural exchange,” Kumar said. “People really have been so supportive. They realize the sacrifice [these educators from abroad] are making for the betterment of children here.”

Links:

USA Employment
http://www.usaemployment.org/schools.htm

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org