• By Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November- December 2009

Rosana RodriguezThere is little question that student success for the 21th Century must be viewed in light of college readiness and that it is linked to the type of leaders this nation will produce. We are uniquely poised at this moment in history to consider education as the civil rights issue of our century, which has been aptly identified by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan (2009).

Public schools are the bedrock of our democracy. For K-12 schools and colleges to be relevant and responsive in the future, teachers must be excellent in their content fields, culturally competent, and pedagogically equipped to serve a diverse student population. School leaders must have a strong vision of college readiness for all students.

In fact, our collaborative vision and commitment will need to evolve to create excellent public schools that are “centers of college readiness” for all children.

We can achieve this by fostering new forms of collaboration and alliances among schools, colleges and communities. Through these alliances, we can create the positive changes needed in teacher preparation, school leadership programs and professional development that focus on college readiness. We cannot continue to recruit, select, place, support and reward teachers and principals the ways we have in the past if we don’t want the same results that perpetuate gaps in support to minority and English language learner students.

Current teacher preparation and educational leadership programs also typically fail to adequately prepare teachers and school leaders to value or engage parents and communities as meaningful partners in the teaching and learning process.

Action dialogues focused on college readiness, quality teaching and community engagement are needed among communities, higher education, schools and policymakers to implement actions that are relevant and sustainable in addressing college access, enrollment and persistence. This requires greater articulation between schools, community colleges and universities, with a comprehensive review of policies and practices along the K-20 continuum, particularly at key transition points – middle to high school and high school to college.

Information linked to action must be readily accessible to families, communities and all stakeholders for making good decisions aimed at college preparedness (Posner & Bojorquez, 2008). Student voices also are indispensable in planning effective action. Schools need to continue to create avenues for student voices to be heard in the planning process.

What follows are several premises upon which to draw as a basis for action and reform as we consider the implications for creating centers of college readiness.

1. College readiness both expands and changes the goal of high school graduation from obtaining just minimum requirements, to creating a supportive college prep context upon which all students emerge with the social, emotional, intellectual and instructional background and experiences to ensure college success. To do so mandates collaboration between high schools and colleges for shared planning, articulation agreements, and access to greatly expanded advanced placement courses and early college credit courses.

This also requires commitment to teach students requisite study skills and provide access to high level courses. Beyond the coursework, college prep requires problem solving skills, decision-making, time management, interpersonal and social competency, and cross cultural skills.

2. College readiness for minority students and English language learners implies looking at structures, policies and practices within schools through an equity lens. In order to ensure that all students graduate fully prepared for college success, we must diligently eliminate all disproportionality in policies and practices within schools as they relate to gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, language and disability. Ongoing and rigorous monitoring and implementation of the goals of equity outlined by the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity (Scott 2000) and by key principles for English language learner education (Villarreal, 2009a&b) can help guide schools in organizing for college readiness. 

3. College readiness requires a deep examination of the curricular and instructional practices that engage and surround students in the continuum from preschool through high school graduation and into higher education. IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Montecel, 2005a) provides a change model through informed family-school-community partnerships and enlightened policymaking. It offers a strong foundation upon which to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the critical structures and curricular and instructional practices that comprise excellence and equity in education. The framework identifies three strategies for changing schools: building capacity of the community to influence schools, building coalitions, and building the capacity of the schools themselves. The evidence-based collaboration that is called for in the model is a holistic guide to view benchmarked standards in creating centers of college readiness. 

4. College readiness has implications for effective community engagement and parent involvement programs. Ensuring that every student is fully prepared for high school graduation and beyond requires informed engagement and purposeful action of home-school-community strategies aimed at developing a shared vision for college readiness through collaborative planning and shared accountability for the success of all students. This includes school boards, superintendents, teachers and school leaders working together to set this expectation, creating a culture of engagement with parents that acknowledges the funds of knowledge represented in families and communities to achieve this goal. From the earliest grades, effective partnerships between home and school must pro-actively foster the expectation of college readiness and establish clear pathways, with all necessary and appropriate supports for the transition from high school into higher education.

5. College readiness implies we create a school culture that focuses on valuing the giftedness of every student. While our focus, appropriately so, continues to be on reducing the achievement gap and improving the quality of educational opportunities for students who are culturally or linguistically diverse, we also should be concerned about the under-representation of these students in gifted and talented programs. Ford, Grantham, and Whiting (2008) note that Black students, Hispanic students and Native American students have always been significantly under-represented in gifted education programs. King, Kozleski & Lansdowne (2009) underscore the need to focus on giftedness, finding student strengths as a powerful strategy for discovering and encouraging the development of the multicultural assets of students.

To create a culture of college readiness we may need to deliberately re-direct our thoughts toward that expectation, dramatically shifting the paradigm from one that sees some children and their families as “problems to be solved” to one that recognizes all children are gifted and can graduate college ready. Latino and other minority families have high expectations for their children to go to college and see them as gifted; schools must catch up to this vision.

6. College readiness is linked to the type of leaders this nation will produce and to its competitive standing in the world. The future will certainly require more participatory and inclusive leadership that is shared and focuses on the group rather than just the capacity of one individual (Robledo Montecel, 2005b).

A new frontier of leadership research and practice is emerging that reflects leadership of the many vs. leadership of only a few chosen ones. This fundamental shift assumes a process that acknowledges the strengths to be found within diverse communities and cultures, one that honors and celebrates the gifts of history, language and culture as valuable resources upon which we all benefit (Louque, 2002). Responding to this call will mean that schools draw fully upon the social, intellectual and spiritual capital represented in their diverse students, families and communities.

In 2005, IDRA hosted a dialogue with emerging and existing leaders to explore dimensions of leadership linked to community, history, language, culture, spirituality and institutional transformation, the Ohtli Encuentro. While focusing on women of color, the lessons learned are relevant to college readiness. Women leaders from across the nation cited the importance of maintaining their roots, language and cultural ties, as well as their individual forms of spirituality inextricably linked to their leadership journeys. The Ohtli dialogue underscored the importance of hearing the voices of existing and emerging leaders to add to and expand upon our present constructs of leadership (Robledo Montecel, 2005b).

In looking at Latino leadership, one comprehensive study shows that some groups, such as Latinos, place a much higher priority on leadership traits associated with compassion and community service (Ramirez, 2001), while other research finds similarities between Latinos and African Americans (Walters & Smith, 1999; Kilson, 2000).

Where will our future leaders come from? Our future leaders will emerge from schools that are centers of college readiness, representing the sum of what they have been taught from preschool through higher education, reflecting the context of the families and communities from which they came. One hopes they will be guided by a profound desire to live a life of service, embracing a world perspective, where one’s purpose is to work for the benefit of our communities: leaders who are culturally competent, who act from a place where concern for “me” and “mine” is laid aside and consciously replaced with commitment and action that contribute to the greater good, through awareness, compassion, dignity, grace, generosity, integrity, openness, warmth and wisdom.

That will require a new view of what constitutes student success. It is an urgent call for schools to become centers of college readiness, preparing all students to exercise fully all their options in higher education and beyond to become knowledgeable, politically engaged and responsive adults. For as one civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez, has said, the end of all education must surely be service to community, not for their sake but for our own (Olmos, et al., 1999).


Duncan, A. “Partners in Reform,” remarks before the National Education Association recognizing the 45th anniversary of the enactment of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, July 2, 2009).

Ford, D.Y., and T.C. Grantham, G.W. Whiting. “Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students in Gifted Education: Recruitment and Retention Issues,” Exceptional Children (March 22, 2008).

Kilson, M. “The Washington and DuBois Leadership Paradigms Reconsidered,” The Annual of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2000).

King, K., and E. Kozleski, K Lansdowne. “Where Are All the Students of Color in Gifted Education?” Principal (May-June, 2009).

Louque, A. “Spicing it Up: Blending Perspectives of Leadership and Cultural Values from Hispanic and African American Scholars,” Educational Leadership Review (2002).

Olmos, E.J., and C. Fuentes, L. Ybarra. Americanos-Latino Life in the United States (Boston, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1999) pg. 38 translated.

Posner, L., and H. Bojorquez. “Knowledge for Action – Organizing School-Community Partnerships Around Quality Data,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2008).

Ramirez, A. “Reflecting an American Vista: The Character and Impact of Latino Leadership,” Latino Leadership Perspectives (January 2001).

Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).

Robledo Montecel, M. Foreword to The Ohtli Encuentro – Women of Color Share Pathways to Leadership, an initiative of the Intercultural Development Research Association (San Antonio, Texas: Sor Juana Press, 2005).

Scott, B. “Teaching Must be Culturally Relevant to be Quality,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2009).

Villarreal, A. “Ten Principles that Guide the Development of an Effective Educational Plan for English Language Learners at the Secondary Level – Part I,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2009).

Villarreal, A. “Ten Principles that Guide the Development of an Effective Educational Plan for English Language Learners at the Secondary Level – Part II,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2009).

Walters, R.W., and R.C. Smith. African American Leadership (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1999).

Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]