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Supporting State Education Agencies to Design and Implement Grow Your Own Teacher Programs

Southwest | December 07, 2021
Supporting State Education Agencies to Design and Implement Grow Your Own Teacher Programs

Elizabeth Barkowski, PhD, describes REL Southwest’s work with Grow Your Own (GYO) teacher workforce programs and how federally funded centers are working together to support GYO programs. Dr. Barkowski is a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, where her areas of focus include education program evaluation, research, and technical assistance.

One way to increase the number of individuals in the educator pipeline entering teaching careers is to “grow your own” teachers. By recruiting individuals from local communities and nonteaching school staff into the teacher workforce, Grow Your Own (GYO) teacher programs help school districts identify potential teacher candidates and provide them with training and financial support to help obtain the education and certifications they need to become a teacher. Implementing Grow Your Own activities can help school districts increase their teacher candidate pool and increase the diversity of their teacher workforce.

The declining rate of teacher recruitment has been described as the “biggest threat” to public schools in Texas1 and a challenge that rural schools may experience more intensely than schools in suburban or urban settings.2 The state’s educator shortages have intensified since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Houston Independent School District (ISD) had more than 300 staff vacancies as the current school year began, a contrast to the fewer than 100 unfilled positions of a typical year. The district notes the pandemic, salary, and family issues contribute to the increase.3 Texas districts have experienced not only pandemic-related educator vacancies, but support staff and substitute teacher vacancies as well.4 From 2014/15 through 2019/20, Texas Education Agency (TEA) data reveal a 27 percent decrease in new teacher certifications.

In addition, a growing body of literature emphasizes the value of recruiting teachers from communities of color for increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce.5 A diverse workforce is associated with closing student achievement and opportunity gaps, and improvements in academic outcomes on standardized tests, attendance, graduation rates, and college-entrance rates for students of color.6 While students of color make up the majority of our nation’s student population, teachers of color account for a much smaller proportion of the educator workforce, particularly in the REL Southwest region (see chart below).7 Moreover, having teachers with racial or ethnic backgrounds different than their own may discourage students of color from joining the teaching profession.8 GYO programs can address this obstacle by nurturing a teacher workforce from within the community.

a chart showing percentages of ethnicity in student and teacher workforce population

What is the GYO grant program in Texas?

The Texas GYO grant program originated from work conducted by a federally funded Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC) 9 project, managed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), in which the TXCC and TEA led a Rural Schools Task Force to learn from districts across the state about their strengths and needs. The task force identified teacher quality, recruitment, and retention as a high priority. In response to the task force, TEA initiated the Grow Your Own grant program and allocated $10 million to establish programs in rural Texas communities beginning in the 2018/19 school year.

The two-year, competitive grant program, funded by the state legislature, offers funding for districts to approach Grow Your Own through two pathways.

  1. Enroll high school students in Education and Training coursework, which is a career and technical education (CTE) program of study within the state of Texas, to garner interest among students to pursue a teaching career.
  2. Provide paraprofessionals with support and funding to complete an accredited educator preparation program to obtain a teaching certification and teach in their community.

To date, TEA has awarded 89 GYO grants across four grant cycles.

Leveraging federally funded center partnerships: RELs and comprehensive centers working together to support GYO programs

Webinar: December 15, 2021

Grow Your Own Program, From State Education Agency to School District to Student Outcomes

This REL Southwest webinar is designed to help states and districts develop teacher pipeline programs to diversify their workforce and address local staffing needs. The event features representatives from the Texas Education Agency, Crosbyton Consolidated Independent School District, and Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, and Hamilton County Schools in Tennessee. Learn more

A REL Southwest study now underway is looking at the early progress of the GYO program on the pool of teacher candidates in Texas. TEA will use the information to identify areas in which the program has been successful in the state and to make programmatic changes accordingly. This REL Southwest study builds on the previous work of the comprehensive centers (CCs), summarized below.

In 2018 and 2019, the TXCC managed by AIR continued its work with TEA to develop and launch the GYO grant program. TXCC completed the following projects:

  • Conducted literature reviews and policy scans to gather information about GYO programs
  • Worked with TEA to plan program structure, resources, and district supports
  • Collaborated with TEA to host a three-day summer institute for GYO grantees

In 2019, the next Comprehensive Center grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to Westat, who continued the GYO work with TEA. The new Region 14 CC and TEA conducted the following work:

  • Determined district needs for guidance and support based on the first two cohorts of GYO grants
  • Incorporated coaching, training, an implementation framework, and additional resources to support districts developing GYO programs

The combined supports from TXCC and REL Southwest highlight how these federally funded centers work to help state education agencies review data and design, build, and implement programs in response to local education needs. 

1 Aragon, 2016

2 Player, 2015

3 Tran, 2021

4 Dellinger, 2021

5 Skinner, Garreton, & Schultz, 2011; Valenzuela, 2016

6 Villegas & Davis, 2008; Villegas & Irvine, 2010

7 REL Southwest, 2019

8 Goings & Bianco, 2016

9 Learn more about the comprehensive centers at

For more information on Grow Your Own teacher programs and educator workforce topics:

Aragon, S. (2016). Teacher Shortages: What We Know. Teacher Shortage Series. Education Commission of the States.

Dellinger, H. (2021, September 9). Sam Houston-area districts still can’t hire enough teachers and staff, weeks after schools reopened. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from   

Goings, R. B., & Bianco, M. (2016). It’s hard to be who you don’t see: An exploration of Black male high school students’ perspectives on becoming teachers. Urban Review 48, 628–646.

Player, D. (2015). Take me home country roads? Exploring the college attendance patterns of rural youth (Vol. 39). EdPolicy Works Working Paper Series.

Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. (2019). Strategies for recruiting a diverse teacher workforce. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Skinner, E. A., Garreton, M. T., & Schultz, B. D. (2011). Grow Your Own Teachers: Grassroots Change for Teacher Education. Teaching for Social Justice. Teachers College Press. 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027.

Tran, C. (2021, October 15). Pandemic worsens school staffing shortages. Texas Association of School Boards, HR Services website. Retrieved from

Valenzuela, A. (2016). True to our roots: NLERAP and the grow your own teacher education institutes initiative. In A. Valenzuela (Ed.), Growing critically conscious teachers. (pp. 1–23). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Villegas, A. M., & Davis, D. E. (2008). Preparing teachers of color to confront racial/ethnic disparities in educational outcomes. In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. J. McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Teacher Education: Enduring Issues in Changing Contexts (pp. 583–605). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Villegas, A. M., & Irvine, J. J. (2010, April 16). Diversifying the teaching force: An examination of major arguments. The Urban Review 42, 175–192.


Elizabeth Barkowski

Elizabeth Barkowski

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