• María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., and Josie Danini Cortez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • November- December 2001 •

Editor’s Note: Last year, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) conducted a research study with funding by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA) to identify characteristics that contribute to the high academic performance of students served by bilingual education programs. The August 2001 issue of the IDRA Newsletter began a series of six articles describing this research study’s significant findings. The first installment provided an overview of the research design and methods. In the September 2001 issue, we featured an overview of the schools’ demographics and the major findings pertaining to school indicators. This third installment in the October 2001 issue presented the major findings in student outcomes. This fourth installment features the major findings in student outcomes and assessment.

As IDRA visited, interviewed, and surveyed the teachers and administrators, parents and students in 10 different bilingual education programs and their schools, one thing becomes evident: leadership is an essential ingredient in the formula for student success. Leadership manifests itself in different ways, such as commitment to students, valuing of students and their families, and openness to innovation and change. But, one aspect was evident in all of the individuals involved with the programs: each had the ability to inspire and see what was possible.

Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal write of this ability in Leading with Soul: “Perhaps we lost our way when we forgot that the heart of leadership lies in the hearts of leaders. We fooled ourselves, thinking that sheer bravado or sophisticated analytic techniques could respond to our deepest concerns. We lost touch with a precious human gift – our spirit.” This aspect of leadership is difficult to measure but immediately recognizable. And it is this aspect that is critically needed to achieve equity and excellence for all students.

IDRA researched school- and classroom-level indicators of successful bilingual education programs. Our extensive review of other research provided a strong theoretical framework with indicators conducive to successful programs for limited-English-proficient (LEP) students. IDRA framed these indicators as research questions in areas of leadership, vision and goals, school climate, linkages, school organization and accountability, professional development, parent involvement, staff accountability and assessment, staff selection and recognition, and community involvement. This article provides IDRA’s major findings in five of the 10 school-level indicators. The remaining five will be presented in the January 2002 issue of the IDRA Newsletter.

IDRA’s primary research question for this study was, “What contributed to the success of a bilingual education classroom as evidenced by LEP student academic achievement?” In addition to the student data, qualitative and contextual research questions for other indicators emerged from our extensive review of the research and IDRA’s own history in bilingual education.

Five main questions guided the research for school-level indicators. Each question had a more detailed subset of questions. The questions that guided the research for five of the school level indicators follow.

Leadership – How evident is leadership at the school level, and what are the characteristics (Carter and Chatfield, 1986; Lucas et al., 1990)?

  • Is the school leadership well-informed of the rationale for bilingual education, and does it share an active commitment to bilingualism?
  • Does the school leadership pro-actively involve the community and private sector in the design and development of the bilingual program?
  • Does the school leadership support educational equity and excellence for all students?

Vision and Goals – How evident are the vision and goals at the school level, and what are the characteristics (Villarreal and Solís, 1998)?

  • Do a vision and a set of goals exist that define the achievement level expected of all students, including LEP students?
  • Are the vision and goals communicated to students, and do they guide the instruction?

School Climate – What are the characteristics of the school’s climate (Lein et al., 1997; Ogbu and Matute-Bianchi, 1986)?

  • Does the school climate communicate, in concrete ways, high expectations to LEP students, a sense of family, a high level of trust among all school personnel, and shared responsibility and decision making?
  • Are student linguistic and cultural diversity valued and celebrated?
  • Is innovation introduced and managed with careful attention to the process of participation and ownership at all levels of the institution, families and the broader community?
  • Do the adaptations keep the positive vision that all children can achieve to their maximum potential and be fully fluent in English without sacrificing their native language?
  • Are the challenges accepted by everyone and reflect ongoing respect and validation of all participants, even those who disagree with the changes?
  • Is the climate safe and orderly?

Linkages – What linkages exist between central office and school-level staff, and how are they characterized (McLoed, 1996)?

Are linkages to central office staff facilitated by clear roles and responsibilities of central office staff?

Does the central office staff provide leadership, credibility and respect for the program?

School Organization and Accountability – How is the school organized (Villarreal and Solís, 1998; McLoed, 1996)?

  • Is the school organization based on the most efficient way of maximizing the impact of instruction?
  • Is the program an integral part of the school’s academic plan?
  • Are small organizational arrangements (e.g., families, academic teams) created to increase communication among teachers, parents and students?
  • Is there strong accountability for the success of all students?

IDRA conducted onsite classroom observations; held structured interviews with teachers, administrators and parents; and administered surveys at each of the participating schools. Below are the major findings for each area.


All of the schools we studied had strong and visible leadership. While the principals varied in their leadership styles, all had some common traits:

  • total and unwavering commitment to their students’ achievement and to an excellent bilingual education program that was fully integrated into the school;
  • open and frequent communication among the principal, faculty and staff;
  • pro-active involvement of faculty, staff and the community in the bilingual program;
  • professionalism, skills, and knowledge;
  • well-informed of the rationale for bilingual education;
  • valuing of all individuals – students, faculty and staff;
  • ability to inspire, motivate and validate;
  • openness to innovation and change;
  • access provided to current research and best practices;
  • ability to identify, secure, and mobilize resources; and
  • support for faculty and staff.

Teachers and administrators we interviewed believed that their schools’ administration supported teacher autonomy. Also important was the involvement of English as a second language (ESL) and bilingual education teachers in the schools’ decision-making process as well as their autonomy in the decisions they made in their classrooms.

Vision and Goals

All of the schools had visions and goals that were published and evident throughout the schools, setting clear expectations for the achievement of all students. Furthermore, these visions and goals manifested themselves in the day-to-day work of the principals, faculty, staff, parents and families. In some cases, the visions and goals were developed by the principals, faculty, staff and parents, adding a dimension of ownership and buy-in.

Surveys showed that the schools had visions that embraced the goals of bilingual education with a mission inclusive of all students and their families.

In one instance, an IDRA researcher commented:

The school is innovative in the way it deals with a multitude of languages and cultures as it prepares students to transition into a new country and a new language. The school has a way of valuing differences and acknowledging potential in every student.

Another IDRA researcher observed:

This school is successful because of the commitment and the integrity that the teachers have toward the bilingual program at their school. They attribute their success to the clear and focused program that is articulated throughout the campus and to the support that the principal provides. All of the teachers say that the success is due to the fact that they value learning a second language and because of the calidad de los maestros en esta escuela [The quality of the teachers at this school].

School Climate

While school locations varied greatly – from inner-city urban to rural and isolated – the intrinsic character and climate of the schools shared some common traits:

  • All of the schools were safe and orderly;
  • All of the administration, faculty, staff, parents and students felt responsible for maintaining a safe and orderly climate;
  • “Order” operationally looked different in the different settings: “orderly chaos” in some, structured and well-defined in others; but the underlying “order” of well-defined expectations, responsibilities and roles were clear and understood by all;
  • “Safe” included personal safety as well as safety to innovate, change and communicate;
  • All of the schools affirmed and valued racial and cultural differences; and
  • All of the schools had a climate of caring, belonging and friendliness.

Teachers and administrators reported a positive school climate that nurtured and maintained cultural diversity and mutual respect.


The central office staffs provided strong leadership and respect for the bilingual programs IDRA studied. There were clearly articulated roles and responsibilities among central office staff as well as frequent and open communication between central office and school staff. All of the schools reported strong support from someone in central office for their program and their school.

In addition to the vertical linkages, there was evidence of horizontal linkages as well, with teachers working in teams, sharing, exchanging, communicating and focusing on achievement of all students. Bilingual teachers were never isolated from the rest of the faculty. They, along with the bilingual program, were fully integrated into the rhythm and essence of the school.

Teachers and administrators reported a high degree of collaborative work between faculty and staff:

“There is master coordination in this school, collegiality, and a deep sense of purpose as well as a tremendous sense of trust and loyalty among the staff and administration.”

“We are doing… team teaching. During the day, we exchange classes in first grade: I teach in Spanish to the other teacher’s students, and she teaches my children in English.”

“Teachers are more united – all teachers work with all children. All teachers are responsible for working in the bilingual education program.”

“We [elementary school teachers] have a lot of communication with the middle school.”

School Organization and Accountability

The bilingual program was an integral part of the schools and their academic plans. It was evident that faculty and staff held themselves accountable for the success of all students, including LEP students. Surveys showed that teachers and administrators saw bilingual education as an integral part of their schools.

At one school, an IDRA researcher observed:

The bilingual program is an integral part of the school. When a parent signs up [for his or her child] to attend the school, they know that Spanish will be the mode of instruction in grades kindergarten to two and that from grades three to eight, the students will be receiving bilingual instruction. The students do not transition out of the program, and they are expected to achieve at or above the state standards. All of the teachers hired for the school must speak Spanish with native-like fluency.

In another case, an IDRA researcher stated:

Teachers hold themselves accountable for the success of each student. During the classroom observations, it was evident that the teachers knew exactly the level of skills of each child.

Example of a Successful Bilingual Program

Strong leadership, clear and well-articulated vision and goals that fully integrate bilingual education into the school, safe and positive school climate, strong linkages across grade levels, and a school organization and accountability that holds teachers and administrators responsible for the success of all students are five indicators that were found in the research sites. One example of such a program is found at Paul Bell Middle School in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Paul Bell Middle School, Miami-Dade County, Florida

Opened in September 1997, Paul Bell Middle School, is a state-of-the-art facility built on a 16-acre tract in Dade County, Florida. The facility consists of eight building clusters constructed around a courtyard, with office and auditorium spaces centrally located. The area in which the school is located is one of rapid residential and commercial growth, due west of Miami on the western side of Sweetwater.

Every classroom at the school is clean, well-lit and conducive to learning. The students take pride in their school and maintain it well. Student work is displayed throughout the classrooms, as is literature about the topic currently being discussed. There is an abundance of printed material on the walls, but it does not create a distraction. Everything on the walls is needed during the lessons. Student work is also highly visible in hallways and common areas.

It is evident that learning is taking place at Paul Bell Middle School. Whether answering the teachers’ questions or interacting with each other, students are always respectful. They are always on task throughout the entire lesson.

An IDRA researcher noted:

Students were not afraid to ask questions. They did not feel embarrassed if they did not understand something the teacher was explaining. Students felt comfortable discussing the lesson with the teachers as well as with each other.

Paul Bell Middle School is a bilingual school where language instruction is offered in Spanish, mathematics, geography and science. A variety of exceptional learning resources is available to students here, from the media center and language and computer laboratories to specialized resource rooms and exceptional student facilities. The school boasts a variety of remarkable pre-vocational areas, including business, work experience, family and consumer sciences, health education and graphics and technology labs.

The goal of the ESL program at Paul Bell Middle School is to facilitate the acquisition of English, maintain proficiency in the home language and promote the acquisition of language arts skills. To achieve these goals, all English-learning students are strongly encouraged to register in the bilingual program. The ESL program’s main focus is to develop English language proficiency.

Inclusion in the bilingual program maintains the English-learners’ proficiency in the home language and helps develop their language arts skills. The presence of the students in bilingual courses enriches the multicultural experience for all students. It ensures that bilingualism will be maintained and breaks down the isolation that sometimes is experienced by English-learning students.

The goal of the bilingual program at the school is to develop bilingual, biliterate and bicultural students capable of leadership and success in the multilingual society of the global economy. To become bilingual and biliterate, or to maintain these skills and abilities, students must not only learn the language, they must also use their native language to learn.

To that end, the bilingual program at Paul Bell Middle School requires one class period of Spanish language arts curriculum and two class periods of basic subject area instruction in Spanish. The Spanish language arts curriculum further develops and enriches the language arts skills while familiarizing the students with Hispanic culture.

Content areas taught in Spanish vary from grade to grade, however, curricular learning objectives of all courses are the same regardless of the language used for instruction. Additionally, literature and fine arts are emphasized as teaching tools in all curricular offerings, thus exposing students to the richness of their bicultural heritage.

Technology instruction and utilization is integrated throughout Paul Bell Middle School. Every teacher has a computer in his or her classroom, and every student has access to one. Computer centers are located in classrooms, the library, various laboratories, resource rooms, the media center and other facilities. Computer students also maintain a web site. Media students prepare and broadcast the morning announcements – in both English and Spanish – from the school’s studio.

The school’s language arts curriculum is at the heart of its bilingual instruction. Literature is the springboard for all other activities in the classroom. Multicultural selections from classical and modern works comprise the bulk of subject matter studied. Reading and composition are infused throughout all of the disciplines, with the language arts classes supporting and reinforcing the curriculum pursuits of the other disciplines.

Paul Bell Middle School’s approach to teaching English-learners has allowed success for all students in a bilingual, bicultural environment. The program’s exemplary practices make it a model for bilingual education.


Bolman, L.G., and T.E. Deal. Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit Revised (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995) pg. 6.

Carter, T., and M. Chatfield. “Effective Bilingual Schools: Implications for Policy and Practice,” American Journal of Education (1986) 95, 200-232.

Lein, L., and J.F. Johnson, M. Ragland. Successful Texas Schoolwide Programs: Research Study Results (Austin, Texas: The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, 1997).

Lucas, T., and R. Henze, R. Donato. “Promoting the Success of Latino Language-Minority Students: An Exploratory Study of Six High Schools,” Harvard Educational Review (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1990).

McLoed, B. School Reform and Student Diversity: Exemplary Schooling for Language Minority Students, NCBE Resource Collection Series (Washington, D.C.: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1996).

Ogbu, J.U., and M.E. Matute-Bianchi. “Understanding Sociocultural Factors: Knowledge, Identity, and School Adjustment,” Beyond Language: Social and Cultural Factors in Schooling Language-Minority Students (Los Angeles, Calif.: Evaluation, Dissemination, and Assessment Center, California State University, 1986).

Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Student Assessment and Outcomes,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2001).

Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: 10 Schools Serve as Models,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2001).

Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Criteria for Exemplary Practices in Bilingual Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2001).

Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez, A. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Student Assessment and Outcomes,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2001).

Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: 10 Schools Serve as Models,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2001).

Robledo Montecel, M., and J.D. Cortez. “Successful Bilingual Education Programs: Criteria for Exemplary Practices in Bilingual Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2001).

Villarreal, A., and A. Solís. “Effective Implementation of Bilingual Programs: Reflections from the Field,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 1998).

María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is the IDRA executive director. Josie Danini Cortez, M.A., is the production development coordinator. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the 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.]