• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., and Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2008 • Rosana RodriguezDr. Abelardo Villarreal

As keepers of the vision of multiculturalism and democracy, our public schools hold the responsibility of ensuring quality teaching for all students. Public schools are accountable for educating all learners to high academic standards and outcomes regardless of differing characteristics of these learners. This includes immigrant students, who are entitled to full access to excellence and equity in educational opportunities at all levels. To accomplish this, schools must be responsive to immigrant students’ unique social, cognitive and linguistic needs and must plan to address them accordingly. They also must strengthen their capacity to implement creative approaches for serving immigrant students.

IDRA’s South Central Collaborative for Equity has outlined six goals of educational equity. These are comparably high academic achievement and other student outcomes, equitable access and inclusion; equitable treatment, equitable opportunity to learn, equitable resources, and accountability. Schools can apply these five goals to assure that quality teaching is in place for all students to achieve academic success, including immigrant students.

Recent literature has identified many factors associated with quality teaching. While certainly not exhaustive, this article looks at four dimensions of quality teaching and describes effective school approaches for educating recent immigrant students.

These four dimensions are instructional leadership, instructional focus, safe and orderly school climate, and high student expectations. Following are examples that would indicate each dimension is being practiced effectively.

Instructional Leadership

  • The principal orchestrates necessary resources to serve immigrant students.
  • A high priority is assigned to efforts that will provide recent immigrants with quality educational programs.
  • Curriculum options are explored, implementing those with highest success for the students being served.
  • The principal creates an environment that values and promotes integration of immigrant students into the mainstream as soon as possible.
  • Progress of students is periodically evaluated for success with adjustments made as needed.
  • The rights of immigrant students are respected and communicated to staff, parents and community.

Instructional Focus

  • The school mission statement acknowledges and values a diverse student population and the role that the school plays in maintaining educational equity and excellence.
  • No group of students or parents is isolated from the mainstream other than for specific instructional purposes for a period of time not to exceed two hours per day.
  • Teachers are encouraged to adapt instruction to the needs of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
  • Educational materials reflect the diversity of the student body, and staff receive training on their appropriate use.
  • Professional development opportunities are encouraged focusing on effective practices for educating immigrant students.

Safe and Orderly School Climate

  • Immigrant students and their families feel safe and secure in the educational environment.
  • Peers, teachers, administrators and other personnel treat immigrant students and their families with respect.
  • Immigrant students and their families are provided orientation in their home language to clearly understand procedures, requirements and opportunities of the school.
  • School administration and teachers promote relationships based on mutual respect among all students.
  • Immigrant students and their families are afforded opportunities to assume leadership roles.

High Student Expectations

  • Immigrant students feel that teachers and administrators value them and hold high expectations for their educational success.
  • Teachers communicate high expectations and provide support by challenging immigrant students intellectually.
  • Immigrant students are fully integrated into the mainstream curriculum within specified times that vary with grade levels and the students’ previous educational background.
  • Progress is monitored on a regular basis and communicated effectively with parents as partners in the learning process.

Creating a Vision of Success

For quality teaching to occur, administrators and teachers need to create a vision of success for immigrant students that incorporates a mental image of them as strategic and independent learners of English and core content. This vision of success must be translated into statements and actions to support their full integration as contributing members of society.

Below are six steps for principals and teachers to help fulfill this vision of success and to craft educational responses to serve immigrant students.

Establish a vision for all students’ graduation – specifically for immigrant students.

This vision should consist of delineating the philosophical principles upon which practices and policies will ensure access, equity and educational success for all students.

Identify assessment procedures to use for instructional placement.

The identification and placement process provides data on immigrant students that can help schools answer the crucial question: Does the student need a special program before full mainstreaming into the regular program, and if so what program is best suited for his or her individual needs?

Select instructional options that best meet the linguistic and academic needs of the immigrant student population.

Instructional approaches differ in the amount of native language instruction, English language instruction, academic content and orientation materials for the new culture. Each option must have strong orientation and multicultural components that stress the respect and valuing of other cultures and languages. Good instructional approaches use student-centered and student-initiated learning experiences, such as cooperative learning, literature-based instruction and a combination of experiences that use the arts, music or imagery.

Develop support services that are appropriate and supportive of immigrant students and families.

A full range of support services should be in place that include parent involvement programs, specialized counseling services for newcomers and their families, extracurricular activities, support groups, mentoring programs, peer coaching and other programs that encourage and support newcomers.

Establish a system for fully engaging and transitioning immigrant students into the regular curriculum.

Exiting criteria should be based on three conditions: (1) students’ proficiency in the English language has reached the advanced level; (2) students have shown successful participation in the regular classroom; and (3) students have successfully adjusted to their new environment.

Implement a monitoring and evaluation component that tracks success and provides the necessary data for decision-makers at key transitional points.

A critical factor of any program is a process for monitoring service delivery and evaluating the short- and long-term effects of various educational services. This component should be designed in a manner that does not hurt children, but rather analyzes performance outcomes (e.g., test scores, promotion and graduation rates, participation in extracurricular activities) and the extent of participation and access to appropriate educational services. Feedback mechanisms also should be integrated into the evaluation system to provide information to the school that might be useful for program revisions or refinements.

Friedlander describes key features of newcomer programs that have been successful with recent immigrant students (1991). These include:

  • Orientation to society and school;
  • Specialized curriculum that emphasizes the rapid development of the English language and academic content instruction;
  • Low student-teacher ratio that results in more individualized attention;
  • Wide range of support services that comprehensively address other student needs that can affect achievement;
  • Comprehensive staff development programs that prepare teachers to better educate recent immigrant students;
  • Multicultural education planning that places a high priority on valuing and respecting cultural and linguistic diversity;
  • Equitable access to resources for serving immigrant students (e.g., bilingual teachers and counselors);
  • Supportive environments that shelter and support students to cope with an environment that may seem hostile and entirely foreign to newcomers;
  • Family atmosphere at the school that makes recent immigrant families a part of the students’ support system; and
  • Continuity during the adjustment period that allows students the time to adjust to the new environment with the least number of interruptions.

The power of instructional technology cannot be underestimated in effective instructional programs for recent immigrants. Technology can support teaching and learning in unique ways that should be geared to the individual learning styles of each student and help broaden skills and horizons for graduation and beyond.

As educators, we are compelled to be leaders in nurturing a more compassionate and responsive educational system that ensures equity, access and excellence for all students and “sound educational programs that are responsive to the needs and characteristics of immigrant children” (Cárdenas, 1995).

The exclusion of immigrant children from fully participating in our educational system is contrary to the U.N. Resolution on the Rights of Children that was ratified by the United States. The lack of public understanding and appreciation for the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution is incomprehensible and totally unacceptable. For the future of our nation, this protection must be enforced and continue to all persons in the country, regardless of citizenship, residence or documented status.

IDRA’s executive director, Dr. María Robledo Montecel has issued a call to our nation to adopt uncompromising expectations for graduating all students based on 18 principles. To ensure that all students, including immigrant students, are valued, supported and encouraged, “When we make good on the promise to children, we make good on the promise of America – one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” (2004).


Cárdenas, J.A. Multicultural Education: A Generation of Advocacy (Needham Heights, Mass.: Simon and Schuster Custom Publishing, 1995).

Friedlander, M. “The Newcomer Program: Helping Immigrant Students Succeed In U.S. Schools,” NCBE Program Information Guide Series (Number 8, Fall 1991).

Robledo Montecel, M. Making Good on the Promise: Graduation for All, speech at Expectation Graduation Citywide Summit, Houston (May 11, 2004).

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is the director of IDRA Field Services. Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. is director of development at IDRA. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the February 2008 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.]