Dana Bryson’s desire to improve urban life has shaped her career. With over 25 years in public, start-up, and non-profit sectors, she has advocated for communities of color working to increase social sector outcomes and shareholder value. In her current role as Senior Vice President of Social Impact at Study.com, she oversees the company’s equitable education initiatives, including the Working Scholars program, a debt-free accelerated degree pathway for working adults, and Keys to the Classroom, which helps aspiring educators prepare for and pass their teacher certification exams.
In the dynamic landscape of education, where students from diverse backgrounds fill classrooms, it is crucial to have a teaching force that reflects this diversity. Within districts and schools across the country, we know that the existing demographics of the teaching profession reveal a glaring disparity. The statistics demonstrate the urgent need for a more diverse teacher population that can serve the varied needs and experiences of students.
Adding to this concern is the challenge of teacher certification exams, which disproportionately negatively affect teachers of color. On a national scale, less than half (46%) of teacher candidates pass the Praxis on their first attempt, with even lower rates for Black (38%) and Hispanic/Latino (57%) candidates. These exams serve as barriers for teachers of color to enter the profession, contributing to the shortage of educators of all backgrounds. The research underscores that students benefit immensely from teachers of color, both academically and emotionally.
Innovative Pathways: Grow Your Own Initiatives
Grow Your Own (GYO) programs are designed statewide to recruit, prepare, and retain teachers from underrepresented communities and have a proven track record of ensuring that more diverse teachers get to the classroom. As the SVP of Social Impact at Study.com, my team developed the Keys to the Classroom program to donate free Praxis test prep for aspiring teachers to further eliminate barriers into the classroom and partner with dozens of these programs nationwide. Through this work, I’ve witnessed district leaders and school administrators implementing innovative pathways to cultivate a robust and diverse teacher pipeline. Some examples include:
- Tennessee’s Teacher Apprenticeship Model has been pioneering the GYO movement for years by embedding on-the-job with learning. This groundbreaking program creates partnerships between Educator Preparation Providers (EPPs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs), establishing cost-free pathways into teaching. By aligning teacher preparation with national apprenticeship standards, this initiative secures sustainable funding for teacher pipelines, encouraging aspiring educators from underserved communities to pursue teaching careers. The focus is not only on addressing shortages but also on promoting equity, training, and up-skilling residents, and revitalizing underserved areas.
- Another noteworthy approach is the high school Cadets program in South Carolina, led by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA). This experiential learning initiative targets academically talented high school students, many of whom are interested in attending a Historically Black College or University, offering them insights into the teaching profession through dual-credit accrual courses. By engaging future community leaders in the field of education, this program aims to inspire young minds to develop a passion for teaching at an early age to increase their chances of success in the profession.
Beyond these initiatives, there are national programs supporting recruiting, tracking, and testing; as well as providing mentoring to navigate the teacher to licensure. National organizations like Teach.org and TNTP are playing a vital role in recruiting and retaining teachers. The TNTP Teaching Fellows programs provide career changers and recent graduates with deeper integration and expedited paths to teacher certification through practical, job-embedded training and personalized coaching. TEACH partners with states and metropolitan areas to establish sustainable teacher talent pipelines, offering free resources and services to overcome barriers faced by prospective teachers.
Best Practices for Implementation
Drawing from successful GYO models and initiatives, several best practices emerge for schools and districts to consider:
- Recruit from Within: Identify potential educators from within your support staff, including paraprofessionals and students, early in their career exploration journey. Building on existing familiarity with the school community, these individuals can be groomed to become effective teachers.
- Embrace Public/Private Partnerships: In the quest for a more diverse and equitable teaching profession, strong and collaborative partnerships between districts, educator preparation programs, and community-based organizations are essential. These partnerships can provide financial support, mentorship, and resources to aspiring educators. By leveraging the unique strengths of each partner, a seamless pathway can be created that guides candidates from recruitment to successful employment.
- Plan for Long-Term Pathway Programs: Design pathway programs that span from early recruitment to ongoing support during licensure. Consider embedding the test prep curriculum into the program as additional support. Data from our recent Keys to the Classroom report shows that teacher candidates in GYO programs, especially those from more diverse backgrounds, are more likely to attain teacher licensure and achieve higher pass rates when provided guided pathways and access to resources and support for their certification exams.
- Employ a Data-Driven Approach: Set quantifiable goals for the percentage of your workforce that should come from these pathway programs. Regularly analyze data to track progress and refine strategies accordingly.
- Engage Diverse Stakeholders in Planning and Design: Partnerships should engage a diverse range of stakeholders to design GYO programs that meet local teacher workforce needs. These stakeholders could include teacher preparation program leaders, district superintendents, human resource staff, education service districts, teacher unions, and advocacy groups. By involving various voices and perspectives, the program’s design can be enriched, and potential gaps can be identified. This collaborative approach ensures that the GYO program aligns with the community’s vision and requirements.
The journey toward a more diverse and equitable teaching profession requires collaborative efforts at every level. GYO programs, driven by strong partnerships, are a powerful tool to achieve this goal. By strategically defining roles, formalizing agreements, engaging diverse stakeholders, and championing equity-centered approaches, these partnerships can create pathways for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to enter and thrive in the teaching profession. As the education landscape evolves, the impact of these partnerships will be felt not only in our schools but in the lives of students and communities they serve.