• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2005

Dr. Abelardo VillarrealRosana RodriguezAs the number of Latino youth in the United States increases, there is a critical shortage of teachers who are certified and qualified to teach students, both in bilingual programs and in English as a second language (ESL) programs. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that one-third of teachers lack college preparation in the main subject areas they teach, and even fewer have preparation in their subject areas using ESL techniques.

As a result, less than half of the country’s 3.8 million children who are learning English are being served in bilingual or ESL programs. And even fewer are enrolled in well-designed, well-implemented programs taught by certified teachers who speak their language. Not surprisingly, high poverty schools suffer the greatest need.

This action agenda offers insights and recommendations gathered from IDRA’s and other’s research, project experience and best practice regarding excellence in accelerated programs that prepare teachers to serve a changing student body. This article addresses changes needed at the institutional levels of K-12 and higher education as well as ongoing professional development and evaluation to bring positive practice to scale in high-needs communities.

An Action Agenda

The quality of teachers placed in classrooms has a profound effect on the economy and quality of life for all the nation’s citizens. Colleges and universities have a pivotal role to play in the teacher preparation process and in engaging their local communities in this agenda. The most important action to be taken is to move the preparation of teachers to the forefront of the professional and institutional agendas in higher education.

Colleges and universities cannot act alone in solving the shortage of qualified teachers. Communities, K-12 schools, policymakers and others can take an active role that will result in identifying and supporting excellent teacher preparation programs for bilingual and bicultural teachers.

Colleges and universities also have a key role to play as conveners for a broader dialogue among key stakeholders. Acting together, they can create a critical mass of institutions committed to excellence in education, within states and across regions, particularly in Latino hyper-growth states where populations of English language learners are doubling or tripling in numbers.

Ultimately, college presidents, deans of education, faculty members and teachers themselves can outline agendas, define the issues, engage in research to inform, and recommend policies internal and external to their institutions, set priorities, create partnerships beyond the campus boundaries, and call for action that will lead to positive change. The following action steps are offered for discussion and action that can help in creating a critical mass of colleges and universities, schools, communities and opinion leaders committed to quality bilingual teacher preparation.

Action Steps for Effective Bilingual Teacher Preparation


Universities should adopt “Fitness to Teach” criteria for pre-identifying candidates. Each prospective participant would submit letters of recommendation from former employers and fill out a questionnaire that shows their fitness to teach. The fitness-to-teach criteria address personal qualities that are essential in a successful teacher.

Along with the “fitness to teach” criteria crafted by IDRA, the research-based test from Dr. Haberman, distinguished professor, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, determines if a candidate has the ideology of a Star teacher described in his research. They are as follows:

  1. Persistence predicts the propensity to work with children who present learning and behavioral problems on a daily basis without giving up on them for the full 180 day work year.
  2. Organization and Planning refers to how and why Star teachers plan as well as their ability to manage complex classroom organizations.
  3. Values student learning predicts the degree to which the responses reflect a willingness to make student learning the teacher’s highest priority.
  4. Theory to Practice predicts the respondent’s ability to see the practical implications of generalizations as well as the concepts reflected by specific practices.
  5. At-Risk Students predicts the likelihood that the respondent will be able to connect with and teach students of all backgrounds and levels.
  6. Approach to Students predicts the way the respondent will attempt to relate to students and the likelihood this approach will be effective.
  7. Survive in Bureaucracy predicts the likelihood that the respondent will be able to function as a teacher in a large, depersonalized organization.
  8. Explains Teacher Success deals with the criteria the respondent uses to determine teaching success and whether these are relevant to teachers in poverty schools.
  9. Explains Student Success deals with the criteria the respondent uses to determine students’ success and whether these are relevant to students in poverty schools.
  10. Fallibility refers to how the teacher plans to deal with mistakes in the classroom.

See the following web site for more information: Online Teacher Pre-screener http://www.habermanfoundation.org.


Colleges and universities should improve the transfer and recruitment process between institutions. Since many teacher candidates begin in one institution and transfer, articles of articulation between institutions that enable students to move smoothly between institutions should be clear and strong. Ultimately, if colleges and universities can work together to strategically identify candidate pools and establish strong cross-border and intra-state linkages, the quality of our teachers will improve.


Institutions of higher education need to be committed to maintaining cutting edge, relevant and recent content and pedagogy that reflects a multicultural perspective and draws upon resources within communities. Being mindful to individual student needs is foremost, while maintaining a balance between depth and rigor, as well as length of preparation for accelerated programs.

Field-Based Course Emphasis

Teacher preparation work should include a combination of university-based courses, field-based courses and a teacher-enhancement program designed to prepare participants to address school-specific issues and concerns that impact the quality of education provided to all students, particularly minority and low-income students. Field-based courses are those courses in which the primary activity is performance of some professional teacher activities by the university student who is interacting with master teachers, as well as with university faculty members in a school-related setting. These courses must include more than observation within a classroom; they must include classroom practice under the direction of a master teacher and team teaching with a master teacher.

Support Systems

Colleges and universities must ensure that multi-level support systems are in place to monitor and mentor quality teachers throughout and beyond the certification process. Coursework should be specialized to provide support for retention and excellence in the classroom. Special needs, such as English proficiency and socio-cultural elements of the U.S. system need to be addressed throughout coursework.

At the same time, schools of education can work toward dispelling negative myths about teachers certified in other countries. Some examples of this support are school-level new teacher support, including mentoring and ongoing professional development interfaced with existing school efforts, Pláticas for new teachers on key educational topics, university supervision, tutoring and buddy systems for course completion, academic advisement and test preparation and English language development for foreign-educated professionals.

Institutional Change

Institutions of higher education should place the teacher preparation agenda at the center of their institutions within a common vision that includes a well-integrated curriculum from multiple departments. Schools of education should not bear the sole responsibility for teacher preparation. The goal should be to move teacher education beyond a single department and raise it to the center of concern for shared accountability. Other key areas, such as arts and sciences can contribute greatly to the preparation of teachers and engagement with the broader community.

The commitment by presidents and boards must be in place to create a vision of excellent bilingual and bicultural teacher preparation that meaningfully engages communities and fosters cross-institutional communications. This commitment ensures sustainability and promotes positive bicultural and bilingual role models reflected among the faculty.

K-12 Placements and Internships

Universities should work with local schools and communities to identify placements early by developing a personal relationship with the receiving K-12 school as well as at the district-level human resources and bilingual education departments. Positive ongoing communication among schools and universities helps to foster positive internship experiences that set the stage for permanent placement afterwards. Shared accountability in finding the right “match” between school and candidate is key, as is incorporating the views of parents and community to help select, support and place good teachers in high-need areas. Efforts to promote partnership can help to avoid the blaming syndrome that can aggravate teacher shortages and it can create a win-win for schools, teachers and universities.

Engagement through Communication and Dissemination

Presidents should engage with other leaders to assess the effectiveness of their teacher preparation programs, share this information broadly and help shape public policy. The preparation of excellent teachers is an agenda for the broader community where much information and collective action is needed. Information is crucial for parents and other community members to be meaningfully engaged with their schools at all levels. Universities need to be visibly engaged and be vocal spokespersons and leaders who promote community involvement in the field of education.

An effective approach to replication and scale-up is to establish partnerships with school districts; secure the collaboration of other educational organizations and other institutions of higher education; connect with community; and create efficient and effective programs. College presidents are respected leaders in their communities who can help build alliances, act as important framers of academic as well as public policy, and serve as catalysts for positive change within their local communities.

While this nation is facing some of the most challenging changes to date, preparing teachers is an investment in leadership for the future. We must learn how to partner better, and recognize and act upon the individual strengths of schools, communities, state departments of education, universities, intermediate service providers, employers in the preparation of teachers, and teachers themselves. Creating and sustaining stronger programs of continuing education, recruitment and support for teachers will help to attract and keep leaders committed to joint action that ensures access and excellence in education for all children.


Cantú, L. “Binational Collaboration Prepares New Teachers,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2002).

Cortez, A. “Teacher Shortages – Implications for Reform and Achievement for All Students,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2001).

Haberman, M. “Star Teacher: On-Line Prescreener,” http://www.habermanfoundation.org.

Montemayor, A.M. “Retaining an Ethnically Diverse Teaching Force,” Teacher Education and Practice: The Journal of the Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (1990-91) 6(2), pp. 53-62.

Rodríguez, R.G. “The Power of Partnerships: How Alianza is Reshaping Bilingual Teacher Preparation,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2003).

Solís, A. “The Role of Mentoring in Teacher Quality and Retention,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2004).

Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Division of Community and Public Engagement. Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2005 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.]