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Field Notes

The Importance of Diversifying America’s Teacher Workforce: The Potential of Grow-Your-Own Programs

June 30, 2021

At Root Cause, we are committed to self-improvement and growth through reflecting on learnings from our project work. We engage in organization-wide learning in many ways, but one standing practice is our monthly Roundtable discussions. Roundtable is a 60-75-minute opportunity for a staff member to facilitate a conversation around project work or other topics of discussion. In January 2021, I led a discussion entitled “Grow-Your-Own” Programs: Diversifying the K-12 Educator Pipeline. This discussion was rooted in learnings from a strategic planning process with our partners at Latinos for Education (L4E) in the fall of 2019. 

Our goals were:

  • Partner with Latinos for Education to design a three-year strategic growth plan
  • Solidify Latinos for Education’s program model by assessing their current work, examining the current state of Latinx education, and understanding what other effective work is happening in the education landscape that would align with L4E’s mission and vision of improving educational environments and outcomes for Latinx students. 

At the beginning of our work together, we asked ourselves the following question: “What would it look like for Latinos for Education to lead a program model that increases Latinx representation in education in meaningful ways?” To answer this question: 

  • We needed to understand what K-12 education (particularly public education) looks like.
  • We needed to make the case for why increasing Latinx representation is important.
  • We needed to develop a model that is feasible for our partner to lead, and has been shown to be effective in increasing Latinx representation and improving student outcomes. 


What does public education look like today? 

According to 2017-2018 school year data from the National Center for Education Statistics, while the largest ethnic group of students is white (~47%), the majority (~53%) of students in U.S. public schools are not white. The largest groups of non-white students are Hispanic students at ~27% and Black students at ~15%. The government predicts that these trends will continue. By the 2028-2029 school year, white students will make up only 43% of students, while students of color will increase to 57%, based on the growth of  Asian American students and students identifying as two or more races. There are also slight increases expected in the number of Hispanic and Black students. 

Comparatively, when looking at the most recent data on the demographics of our public school teachers, 79% are white, while 21% are people of color. Hispanic and Black teachers make up about 9% and 7% of the “teachers of color” population, respectively. Additionally, about 77% of the teacher workforce identifies as female, while only 23% identifies as male. When analyzing the racial/ethnic demographics of school leadership, these proportions are similar or become even more overwhelmingly white.

This data tells us that we already have a majority “student of color” population in the U.S. K-12 system and that this proportion is expected to increase in the next decade. It also tells us that our teacher population does not reflect that diversity, as it is overwhelmingly white and female.


Why is it important to have teachers that look like you?

There is significant research showing a strong case for why each of us should be invested in diversifying the United States’ pool of educators. Some of the most commonly identified reasons are:

  1. Students of color demonstrate greater academic achievement and social and emotional development in classes with teachers of color. According to this report from the Learning Policy Institute, students with teachers of another race had more unexcused absences and an increased likelihood of being chronically absent than students with race-matched teachers.
  2. All students, including white students, benefit from having teachers of color because they bring distinctive knowledge, experiences, and role modeling to the student body as a whole.
  3. Increasing teacher diversity may also benefit teachers of color already in the classroom and could promote retention. In the report from the Learning Policy Institute, they write that teachers of color expressed feelings of isolation, frustration, and fatigue when they were one of few teachers of color in their schools. This finding suggests that increasing the diversity of the teaching force may also benefit students indirectly if it helps to improve teacher satisfaction and decrease teacher turnover, a key contributor to teacher shortages and school instability.

In our Roundtable discussion, Root Cause team members also suggested that diversifying our pool of educators could allow more teachers to challenge and strengthen curriculum that is not culturally competent or relevant to our increasingly diverse student body. Additionally, those diverse teachers would be more likely to be champions for students of color, as white teachers may be less inclined to do so due to implicit bias. 


Grow-Your-Own Teaching Programs

“Grow-Your-Own” programs, or GYO, are intentional pipeline programs leading participants to pursue certain career pathways. Increasingly, participants begin these programs during their high school years, but many still recruit current college students or recent college graduates. These pipeline programs exist in teaching, STEM, consulting, law, medicine, and many other sectors. The goal of these programs is to retain participants as potential employees in the sector at the conclusion of their training. Sometimes, there are more narrow aims such as diversifying a profession by race, gender, etc. or retaining talent in specific geographic areas. 

GYO programs do this by providing enough career exposure that students feel they can pursue the job and that they should pursue the job. They often include experiential opportunities where students can partake in some prerequisite training or learn what type of training is required to pursue this career path. At the very least, students get a sense of what working in the sector looks like and have access to resources that help them potentially pursue that pathway. In some cases, GYO programs provide benefits such as networking opportunities, tuition reimbursement, and/or guaranteed job placement at the completion of the program.

GYO has become an increasingly popular method of retention employed by school districts that struggle to attract and retain diverse teaching talent. Some examples include: the Boston Teacher Cadet Program, Recruiting Washington Teachers, and the Blue Valley High School to Teacher Program. GYO teacher pipelines hope to address retention proactively by providing proper exposure to teaching and proper training for aspiring teachers. By participating in GYO, aspiring teachers can understand what teaching requires, build those required competencies earlier and for a longer period of time, and determine career fit earlier. Imagine the potential impact of one GYO program over a 10-year period of time! It is important to note that GYO alone will not solve teacher attrition or single-handedly diversify the K-12 educator pipeline.  There is a need for significant reform at the school leadership and district levels and a need for creating teaching environments where educators of color will want to make their careers – as teachers, school leaders, or district leaders – and have a positive impact on students.

For our partners at Latinos for Education, a program model that employed or supported a “Grow-Your-Own” program model for K-12 education aligned with their strategic goals and mission and vision statements. 


Implications for Education & Root Cause’s Work

This Roundtable discussion left our team wanting to learn more about “Grow-Your-Own” programs – what would we need to know to create  a GYO program and what would we need to know to recommend a specific GYO model. We were also curious about what other models led to the successful attraction and retention of diverse education leaders. There is even more information and research out there about GYO and diversifying the K-12 educator pipeline since our work with Latinos for Education concluded in 2019-2020. Our work with Latinos for Education provided a deeper context about the K-12 educational environment and raised questions about who has positions of power and what a strong education truly looks like for an increasingly diverse student population. We continue to seek partnerships with organizations and foundations committed to thinking about and finding solutions to these questions.

At Root Cause, our work to understand the impact of “Grow-Your-Own” programs and the importance of diversifying the teaching profession connects with our longstanding commitment to improving the lives of others. We know that giving students a strong educational foundation sets them up to make choices for their lives that will lead them to success. 

We will continue to learn and evolve, and we are excited to use our Roundtable conversations as space to do this important reflection.


Resources for Further Reading

Aguilar, Ruby. “The Importance of Grow Your Own Programs to Recruit Teachers of Color.” The Education Trust. 2020. (link)

Carver Thomas, Desiree. “Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color.” Learning Policy Institute. 2018. (link)

Carver-Thomas and Grayson. “Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse, High-Quality Teacher Workforce.” Intercultural Development Research Association. 2017. (link)

Darling-Hammond, Carver-Thomas, and Sutcher. “A Coming Crisis in Teaching?: Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.” Learning Policy Institute. 2016. (link)

Dee, Thomas. “A Teacher Like Me: Does Race, Ethnicity, or Gender Matter?” American Economic Review 95, no. 2 (2005): 158-165.

Dixon and Griffin. “If You Listen, We Will Stay.” The Education Trust. 2019. (link)

Egalite, Kisida, and Winters. “Representation in the Classroom: The Effect of Own-Race Teachers on Student Achievement.” Economics of Education Review 45 (2015): 44-52. 

Figlio, David. “The Importance of a Diverse Teaching Force.” The Brookings Institution. 2017. (link)

Gist, Bianco, and Lynn. “ Examining Grow Your Own Programs Across the Teacher Development Continuum: Mining Research on Teachers of Color and Nontraditional Educator Pipelines.“  Journal of Teacher Education 70, 1 (2019): 13-125.

Muñiz, Jenny. “Diversifying the Teacher Workforce with ‘Grown Your Own’ Programs.” New America. 2018. (link

National Center for Education Statistics. (link)

Partnership for the Future of Learning. “Building a Strong and Diverse Teaching Profession.” 2021. (link)

The Coalition for Teaching Quality. “Building a Strong and Diverse Teacher and Principal Recruitment Pipeline.” 2016. (link)


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