Rural low-wealth school districts often have difficulty finding and retaining highly qualified teachers, particularly in the areas of special education, English language learner, and secondary Math and Science according to Thomas Farmer, Director at the National Research Center on Rural Education Support at the University of North Carolina. Attracting and keeping rural teachers is due to lower salaries, geographic and social isolation, lower numbers of students attending college, requirements to teach multiple subjects and/or grades, and lack of professional development opportunities.
According to the June 2010 Issue Brief, Grow Your Own and Other Alternative Certification Programs in Rural School Districts, as many as 84% of rural school districts reported some difficulty filling teaching positions. In districts where traditional hiring strategies weren’t working, and in an attempt to meet the No Child Left Behind Highly Qualified teacher requirements, one of the strategies administrators use is “grow your own.”
According to the National Center for Education Information website on information submitted by the states, “… NCEI estimates that more than 250,000 persons have been licensed through alternative routes to teacher certification programs since the mid-1980s, with most of the growth occurring in the last decade. Approximately 35,000 individuals are entering teaching through alternative teacher certification routes each year.”
The Grow Your Own program seeks to identify those already in the community who wish to become teachers or wish to become additionally certified in an area of need. According to the Grow Your Own Teachers Illinois website, core concepts for the “State of Illinois are to identify, train, and employ 1000 or more fully qualified teachers who have previous ties to the low-income communities where they will work. Each program under this initiative is organized and run by a consortium of institutions, including at least a teacher preparation university or college, a community-based organization, and a school district. The program draws teacher candidates from persons who are not qualified for “Alternative Certification” programs (i.e. do not have a bachelor’s degree) but are either currently employed in schools in these communities or participating as an active parent or community member.
“GYO Illinois has prepared a brief handbook to help Grow Your Own projects develop fundraising strategies for the additional costs of their programs.”
Currently the state programs that exist are: Alaska: Transition to Teaching, Arizona: Alternative Path to Certification, Arkansas: Teach Arkansas, Florida: Educator Preparation Institutes, Hawaii education academies, Idaho Grow Your Own Teacher Program, Illinois Grow Your Own Teacher Program, Louisiana STAR Program, Maryland Approved Alternate Prep Program, Massachusetts Teach South Coast, North Carolina Teaching Fellows, Ohio CAPE program, South Carolina MISTERS program, Utah Teachers of Tomorrow, Vermont Alternative Licensure Route, and Washington Alternate Routes to Teaching.