April 21, 2020
Rural schools account for 37 percent of school districts in Texas and the state has more rural schools than any other state in America. In 2016, Texas created the Texas Rural Schools Task Force to identify challenges and best practices for the state’s rural school districts. The following year, the task force published a report, Elevating Support for Texas Rural and Small Schools, that identified priority areas and recommendations for the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
Teacher recruitment surfaced as one of four priority areas. And to foster teacher recruitment in rural and small school districts, the Task Force recommended that the TEA support the implementation of “Grow Your Own” programs through high school career pathways, dual credit opportunities, and early college high schools, while also transitioning paraeducators to teaching roles and supporting teacher residency models.
“Grow Your Own” (GYO) is an approach that focuses on the recruitment and preparation of local students and adults who are likely to stay in or return to their local community to teach. This type of approach can help drum up interest in teaching among students before they graduate from high school, and it can support adults from the community that may be interested in teaching but do not currently have the credentials to enter the classroom.
Following the recommendations of the Task Force, the state created the Grow Your Own grant program in 2018 that aims to increase the quality and diversity of the teacher workforce throughout the state. TEA competitively awards funds to applicants who are committed to solving recruitment and retention issues in the teacher pipeline, particularly in rural and small school settings. While the competitive grant application is open to all districts, priority points are given to districts based on student enrollment whereby the fewer students the district has, the more points they can receive.
The state offers three pathways:
- Pathway 1 prioritizes the recruitment of future educators by funding local education agencies (LEAs) to implement education and training courses in high schools.
- Pathway 2 funds LEAs that have applied for Pathway 1 to recruit and support paraeducators, instructional aides, and substitute teachers already working in the district to transition into fully certified teaching roles.
- Pathway 3 funds educator preparation programs that partner with school districts to place teacher candidates in year-long clinical teaching assignments that can equip candidates with the skills and knowledge to be successful within a particular school context.
These pathways cover three key entry points into the teaching profession. The goal of pathway 1 is to increase the enrollment and quality of career and technical education (CTE) programs for future teachers. High school students are often asked about where they plan to attend college or what they plan to major in, but students aren’t typically encouraged to go into teaching. Sheel Jagani, performance manager at TEA, thinks that students need to be encouraged to be teachers, just like they are encouraged to consider other meaningful careers.
The Education and Training CTE program provides students with a window into the teaching profession. The program consists of a four-course sequence—Principles of Education and Training, Human Growth and Development, Instructional Practices, and Practicum in Education and training— where 75 percent of a student’s time is spent in a clinical experience in their field site classrooms. Students also have the opportunity to earn college credit through dual enrollment courses with community colleges that can provide them with a head start on their postsecondary education.
LEAs that apply for funding for Pathway 1 can also apply to help transition paraeducators, instructional aides, and long-term substitutes who are already working in the community into full-time teachers by providing them with stipends and/or tuition reimbursements to attain a bachelor’s degree and their teaching credential. Given that the paraeducator workforce more closely reflects the racial and linguistic diversity of Texas’s nearly 29 million people, supporting and investing in its career advancement could help the state to further diversify its teaching workforce.
Pathway 3, which supports year-long clinical teaching assignments for students who are getting their education degree at a teacher preparation program, can help address financial barriers for students and rural schools. A year-long clinical placement can feel like an unpaid internship, particularly if the teacher candidate doesn’t have financial support. It may also be cost-prohibitive for small and rural districts to support a student teacher. Pathway 3 provides stipends for students during their clinical training, which also gives the district an opportunity to have a student teacher they might not otherwise be able to afford. According to Jagani, the most important aspect of Pathway 3 is to develop high-quality teacher candidates who have access to an authentic experience in a school and community where they intend to teach, which can support retention in the profession.
The grant program has funded two cohorts of grantees who are now implementing programs across the state. According to the TEA website, the 2019-2021 Grow Your Own grants funded more than 150 paraeducators to become certified educators, almost 100 teacher candidates to participate in clinical teaching placements, and 52 high schools to expand or start education and training programs.
When it comes to program effectiveness, Ron Coleman Jr., Educator Recruitment & Development Specialist at TEA, said that he and others on the team are tracking the percentage of college-ready high school students who are enrolled in at least one education and training course. In 2019, 2.3 percent of college-ready students were enrolled in at least one education and training course state-wide, but they would like to see that number increase to 5 percent by 2023. TEA is also monitoring how many students indicate education as a major on their SAT or ACT.
Heather Salaz, Manager of Educator Equity and Support at TEA, said that they are trying to change the perception of teaching so that more high school students see it as a viable career option. “We are actively measuring this, but how are we actually elevating the profession? How are we making sure that this program is doing that? The education and training courses are a big component of that,” Salaz said. According to Salaz, Texas wants to roll out a Grow Your Own program curriculum so that it can ensure program quality with GYO districts, which will include collaborating with a variety of education stakeholders and may take some time, but Texas is in this for the long haul. According to Salaz, there is a concern about the quantity of high-quality and diverse educators in rural schools, and specifically the access to quality teachers for students of color and low-income students, so she believes that this will continue to be pushed as a very important initiative for the state.
To that end, the TEA has $2.75 million for the upcoming third cycle, which was awarded in February 2020. As Texas continues to learn from the implementation of this program and make program improvements to better address districts’ needs, other states can look to Texas to learn from the state’s experience.
The GYO approach is making its way across the country, and at the federal level, Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the Classrooms Reflecting Communities Act, which would address teacher shortages in rural Alabama and across the country by awarding competitive grants to schools that implement GYO programs. GYO programs are also included in proposals to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
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