• by Josie Danini Cortez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2000 •  Josie Cortez Josie Danini Supik, M.A.

In March, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley addressed the future of Hispanic education in a speech at Bell Multicultural Senior High School in Washington, D.C. In his speech, “Excelencia Para Todos – Excellence for All: The Progress of Hispanic Education and the Challenges of a New Century,” Secretary Riley spoke of the assets of diversity and multiple languages. He challenged the nation to increase the number of dual language schools to at least 1,000 over the next five years. In that time, Hispanics will make up the largest US minority group. By 2050, one out of every four men, women and children in our country will be Hispanic.

The importance of this call to action is the underlying premise that native languages and cultures are assets, not deficiencies, and that English language learners should not have to give up their language or their culture as the price they pay for learning English. The inherent value of all students and their characteristics must be recognized, acknowledged and celebrated. When limited-English-proficient (LEP) students walk into a classroom in this country, they should not be limited in their access to an equitable and excellent education. For that to occur, teachers must be prepared to serve them.

Currently, there are about 3.5 million LEP students in the United States. Fifty-four percent of US teachers have LEP students in their classrooms, but only one-fifth of teachers are, in fact, prepared to serve them. Diaz-Rico and Smith report that between 100,000 to 200,000 bilingual teachers are needed today in US classrooms (1994).

Project Alianza lives against this backdrop – of recognizing and capitalizing on the strengths and assets that English language learners bring. IDRA created this five-year project with funding by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Project Alianza (Alliance) began with the goal of developing teacher preparation and leadership development programs to increase the number of teachers prepared to teach English in bilingual and multicultural environments.

Project Alianza is an alliance of organizations – the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation, the University of Texas at San Antonio, California State University at Long Beach, the University of Texas-Pan American, Southwest Texas State University, and Arizona State University – committed and dedicated to achieving this goal. A new satellite university, the University of Texas at El Paso joined the alliance this year. Three other satellite universities will join the project in the third year. They are Texas A&M International in Laredo, Texas; Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas; and California State University in San Bernardino, California.

Now in its second year, Project Alianza’s evaluation shows that significant milestones have been reached both in the numbers of teachers being prepared for English instruction in bilingual and multicultural environments and in the changes in institutions. In addition to its other roles, IDRA is working with Views Unlimited, Inc. (Dr. Manuel Piña, principal investigator, Texas A&M University) to serve as external evaluator for Project Alianza. Dr. Piña contributes to the primary purposes of this evaluation by focusing on the institutional changes that occur as a result of this effort.

Principles of Collaboration

The project’s significant milestones are not possible without an alliance guided by principles of collaboration which include the following:

  • Alianza universities will have diversity and reflect specialized and generic knowledge about the education of students and the preparation of teachers.
  • Alianza universities will have trust because partnership is based on confidence and faith in each other. Candor and willingness to work through issues will be standard operating procedures.
  • Alianza universities will be represented with binationality. The partnership represents a binational effort and consistently draws on the assets of the two nations.
  • Alianza partnerships will have expediency and minimal bureaucracy. Governance and execution of tasks are not hampered by organizational and structural red-tape.
  • Alianza partnerships will have speed and movement is quick and decisive and transforms barriers into opportunities.
  • Alianza partnerships will have accuracy, quality and excellence with timely results are stressed.
  • Alianza universities are in partnership. We are jointly committed to the success of the process we are in Alianza partnerships are based on empowerment, a collaboration in which all partners have a major role in a major function in the project and have access to other partners for the planning and delivery of project services.

Project Alianza’s second year objectives were organized around the following five areas of focus: teacher preparation, leadership in diversity, dissemination of innovations, BI-national collaborations, and institutional changes and relationships. Major findings under each area of focus are being discovered every day of Alianza.

Reflecting and acting on lessons learned from project experiences and the major findings are at the core of this project. Our reflection provides opportunities for us to acknowledge the change that has already been created and to celebrate when we have been the catalysts for creating and institutionalizing changes that have a lasting impact on the way universities and communities interact for the welfare of all students, particularly those students who do not enjoy full access to the educational opportunities in this country. These lessons learned and the ensuing challenges provide insights on what we experienced. These insights are shared with colleagues and the global community. We are also cognizant of our responsibility to ensure that these lessons become part of our common knowledge and experience in addressing the needs of Latino youth in our educational systems.

Future plans are based on the original Project Alianza commitment and the lessons learned during this second year. This article discusses the four phases of Alianza’s second year: goals, major findings, lessons learned and future plans.

Preparing Bilingual Teachers

The overarching goal for Alianza’s second year was to increase the number of bilingual teachers by enabling the certification of teachers (teacher aides and regular students from the United States and normalista teachers trained in Mexico). Alianza universities selected and enrolled the second cohort of 10 students each in a bilingual education and teacher preparation program. They also sponsored intensive language programs for normalistas learning English and an intensive Spanish-language program for other bilingual education institutions. The universities established a mentoring program where normalistas and other bilingual education students learn from each other.

The enthusiasm for this project cannot be overstated. California State University at Long Beach had more than 300 applicants for the 10 available slots. The applicants often have excellent credentials. One woman at the University of Texas at El Paso was employed as a medical secretary. Her normalista curriculum was so impressive that she was given 60 hours of university credit.

Southwest Texas State University graduated the first Alianza normalista who is now teaching in the Austin Independent School District (ISD). The university also has the first Alianza teacher aide graduating this year. She credits the project with helping her realize her dream of becoming a teacher. She is graduating summa cum laude with a 3.8 grade point average.

Project Alianza universities sponsored intensive language programs. Normalistas were enrolled in an intensive English-language program while traditional students were enrolled in a Spanish language enrichment program.

The universities also established mentoring programs for participating students. The University of Texas-Pan American is providing ExCET sessions in English for all Alianza students from March to August 2000. Students also had the opportunity to attend English as a second language (ESL) seminars this spring, all in an effort to support their students’ success in English language proficiency.

The lessons learned so far include the imperative that instructors be carefully selected to meet the needs and characteristics of the students (e.g., English instructors with Spanish oral and written proficiency). Participants also found that students benefit from instructors who coordinate assignments.

Financial support can vary, with traditional students being able to access existing “traditional” financial aid resources while non-traditional students are in greater need of W.K. Kellogg Foundation stipend funding.

The bulk of the major findings focused on the academic success of the Alianza students follow.

  • Full proficiency in both Spanish and English (knowledge, skills and conversational fluidity) are vital for teachers and students in Project Alianza.
  • Support in preparing students to pass exit exams (such as the California Basic Education Skills test) is critical.
  • Support is crucial to ensure a high level of proficiency in mathematics.
  • Diversity (normalistas, teacher aides, other students) represents a valuable resource to each other in learning a second language and sharing teaching and learning experiences.
  • Many of the future plans for teacher preparation will continue along the same lines of the first and second year plans.
  • Alianza universities will continue to recruit the third cohort of 10 paraprofessionals to the program.
  • Alianza universities will continue to work with normalistas.
  • Alianza universities will provide intensive English-language training to normalistas and Spanish-language training to regular bilingual education students.
  • Alianza universities will continue a mentoring program between normalistas and other bilingual education students and provide specialized counseling.

Supporting Leadership in Diversity

The main goal of Alianza’s Leadership in Diversity innovation is to promote the contextual understanding and interaction among parents, communities, schools, colleges and universities, and policy-makers in an effort to create more meaningful learning opportunities for Latino students. Each Alianza university is establishing a committee of school people, community leaders, parents, students and university personnel to provide guidance to the university in designing changes and in monitoring the implementation of the changes during the five-year grant period.

The universities also have sponsored a series of highly interactive sessions for these committee members to share information and outcomes of the project and to promote the creation of opportunities for diversity at all levels of the educational system – creating a seamless kindergarten through grade 16 (K-16) system.

Each Leadership in Diversity committee is addressing the following objectives:

  • reaching out to school districts;
  • integrating parents into the committees; and
  • working collaboratively with university instructors, students, teachers and parents in school district communities to develop an assets-based model.

Four main lessons were learned in the second year of Project Alianza. First, there must be a clear vision and plan of community leaders’ roles prior to their involvement in a committee. Second, committee leaders must be involved at every level of the K-16 pipeline. Third, opportunities must be created for involving students in such committees, drawing upon their wisdom and insights. This, in turn, leads to more effective student leadership programs. Fourth, the Leadership in Diversity committee can be an excellent forum for parents to provide information about their expectations and their beliefs about what the university can provide and about their role as parents.

Alianza universities will continue to support their Leadership in Diversity committees. IDRA will continue to provide technical assistance to universities in implementing these committees.

Disseminating Innovations

There are two goals for Alianza in the area of dissemination of innovations. One goal is to conduct research that will inform the university community on reform efforts at the university level. The second goal is to disseminate research findings to the university communities, surrounding communities and policy-makers. In year two, Project Alianza conducted research on the implementation of a model teacher preparation program designed to serve LEP students.

The three hub universities and Arizona State University are conducting and disseminating research. Arizona State University completed research during Alianza’s first year designed to support universities in their reform efforts for admitting and preparing bilingual education students. The studies were disseminated during the second program year. They covered the following topics (see “Project Alianza Research Publications Available,” IDRA Newsletter, April 2000).

  • Spanish Language Proficiency of Bilingual Education Teachers
  • The research addresses a teacher’s level of competency in the home language of students and how competencies should be developed and measured.
  • Certification and Endorsement of Bilingual Education Teachers: A Comparison of State Licensure Requirements
  • The research reveals how normal preparation in Mexico compares to teacher education in the United States and the different eras of change in the normal curriculum in the last 20 years.
  • Mexican Normalista Teachers as a Resource for Bilingual Education in the United States: Connecting Two Models of Teacher Preparation
  • The research discusses the commonalities of practice and competencies.

The Center for Bilingual Education and Research at Arizona State University has been conducting two research studies this year. The first is a comparison of curricular standards and objectives in mathematics and language arts (grades one to three) in Mexico and the United States. The second is a study of the attitudes and beliefs of Alianza participating students.

The University of Texas at San Antonio is conducting research on the implementation of a model teacher preparation program designed to serve LEP students.

The University of Texas-Pan American is conducting research on biliteracy development through a dual language teacher preparation program, positive outcomes of bilingual mentoring relationships, and a dual language model’s impact on the ExCET.

Southwest Texas State University is authoring three research articles: “Reciprocal Learning in Bilingual University Settings,” “Effective Practices in Mexico and the United States,” and “Literacy Development in Mexico and the United States.” Plans for dissemination include submission to scholarly journals 2000-01. The university also plans research on the reflections of a normalista (the first Project Alianza graduate) who was recently hired as a full-time bilingual education teacher in the Austin ISD in Texas.

California State University at Long Beach is conducting two research studies. One will study the attitudes of Aliansistas students compared with U.S.-born students. The second study will look at the high volume of applicants to Alianza and how the university is or is not addressing the issues of access to teacher preparation programs in a time of dramatic teacher shortages.

In addition to the university research, Dr. Maria Quezada (former California State University Long Beach Alianza director) published an article entitled “Project Alianza: A Model Teacher Preparation and Leadership Development Program Reaches Out to Traditionally Underserved Linguistic Minority Candidates” in Multicultural Education, a publication by the California Association for Bilingual Education.

The universities will continue to document the lessons learned and disseminate their research and lessons to institutions across the country. Project Alianza will also disseminate key research findings at a networking conference this fall for ENLACE, another W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded effort.

During the third year, Project Alianza will host a networking conference for K-12 bilingual education directors and university faculty who are key to teacher preparation programs for bilingual education.

Collaborating Bi-nationally

The main goal for binational collaboration is to establish ties between US and Mexico universities, enabling professor and student exchanges, collaborative research, and shared curriculum development. During the second year, the Alianza universities began the process of identifying sister institutions in Mexico:

  • California State University at Long Beach has identified the Escuela Normal Estatal de Ensenada in Baja, California,
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio identified Benemerita Escuela Normal de Coahuila,
  • The University of Texas at El Paso identified Escuela Normal Federal “Miguel Hidalgo,”
  • Southwest Texas State University identified Escuela Normal “ProPr. Serafin Pena,” and
  • The University of Texas-Pan American identified Benemerita Escuela Normal Federalizada de Tamaulipas.

Alianza universities are participating in a one-week institute for students, designed by the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation to promote better understanding and knowledge of immigrant students and their educational needs. The institute will also explore Alianza students’ educational experiences in Mexico and share the Mexican experience in pedagogy with second language learners.

A senior fellows seminar on Mexico was conducted by the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation in June 1999. The seminar provided a broad, diverse and insightful vision of the economical, political, educational, social and cultural aspects of today’s Mexico. Participants included IDRA staff, Project Alianza coordinators, university faculty and two US Department of Education program officers. Participants reported that the dynamic exchange enhanced the sensitivity, the understanding and the compassion of those involved in the preparation of teachers who work with children of Latino or Mexican background in the United States. Another one-week institute was held this May in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, with participation by five students and university staff and faculty from each hub university.

The Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation has also made important linkages with the Department of Education in Mexico, actively engaging it with Project Alianza and resulting in the department’s support of the project, particularly with BI-national accreditation issues.

A key learning was that normalistas often helped the less experienced students and acted as culture brokers for the “traditional” students. This created excellent opportunities for mentoring and a deeper understanding of the diverse cultural backgrounds.

Also, the institute in Mexico provided a unique experience for students to learn, at a profound level, the intricacies and richness of the educational system in Mexico. These insights and lessons were learned in a way that can be applied when these students become teachers, enriching their public school students.

Alianza students will participate in a one-week institute developed by the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation to promote a better understanding and knowledge of immigrant students and their educational experience in Mexico. This school-based institute will provide in-depth, first-hand looks at another system, values, beliefs and behaviors.

Changing Institutions and Building Relationships

Alianza’s goal for institutional changes and relationships is twofold. One part is to promote institutional changes that improve the access and quality of teacher preparation programs. The second part is to promote institutional changes that enhance pedagogical and leadership abilities.

Alianza universities are assisting IDRA in creating a change process that communities and universities can use to contextualize and enhance their bilingual education and ESL teacher preparation programs and outreach strategies. The universities are collecting data on changes being implemented as a result of the technical assistance received by the satellite and partner institutions. A mentorship program with one satellite institution will be established by each Alianza university.

These objectives are being accomplished throughout the life of the project by developing, field-testing, and disseminating comprehensive, pluralistic, and integrated models. These models will prepare communities and educators to respond to the increasing diversity of student populations in schools (kindergarten to 16) and to exercise leadership in doing so.

Good working relationships have been established through the different institutions. It is these relationships that form the basis for collaboration, increased understanding and flexibility. For example, through the project director’s efforts at Southwest Texas State University, non-bilingual instructors are now aware of and sensitive to the second language needs of Project Alianza students. This sensitivity extends to the university’s Office of Teacher Certification, the Dean of the College of Education and the Dean of Graduate Studies – all of whom support Project Alianza students – who often are accommodating their scheduling needs. Again, thanks to the project director, ESL instructors at the university look to the Project Alianza students for assistance, thereby enhancing the students’ leadership skills.

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, the project director and staff have made important linkages with K-12 schools and have created opportunities for normalista students to meet with school principals and teachers during their student teacher placement in the schools. This is an important linkage for future employment. School placement is now coordinated between the university and the schools. Another linkage is between university students who are also parents of area school children. Their participation in school district activities is encouraged, and they gain important insights from their roles as parents and students.

Thus, many lessons have been learned in the area of institutional change and relationships.

  • The project identifies ways to revalidate course work completed in Mexico as part of the Normalista teacher preparation program.
  • Once a revalidation process for normalistas is established, it facilitates revalidation of previous coursework for Central American and South American participants of the project.
  • Courses must be offered on the weekend (requiring institutional flexibility) to address the specific needs of some students.
  • Strong support from the higher echelons of the institution greatly enhances and facilitates faculty and university support for the project, including deans from the various colleges involved in course scheduling for project courses
  • Networking with key personnel from different university departments is important to ensure the best interests of the project students are served.
  • Project Alianza is changing the mindsets of university staff and faculty to see the community not from a “needs” perspective but from a “contributing” one. This requires numerous and consistent conversations with key stakeholders and a major shift that recognizes and acknowledges that everyone contributes valuable assets and strengths.

The universities will continue to positively impact relationships among key stakeholders, so they, too, share in the success of students.

Project Alianza continues to make extraordinary advances, enrolling many more students than originally anticipated, garnering institutional support, leveraging resources, and creating and strengthening relationships among individuals and institutions. These advances are a testament to the dedication and commitment of Project Alianza’s leadership.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned thus far is that all institutions are comprised of individuals. And when an extraordinary group of individuals in those institutions come together to create change, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Institutional practices and procedures improve, having an extraordinary impact on all.


Diaz-Rico, L.T., and J. Smith. “Recruiting and Retaining Bilingual Teachers: A Cooperative School Community-University Model,” The Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students (Winter 1994).

U.S. Department of Education. “Community Update: D.C.’s Bell High School – A Multicultural Model,” No. 77 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, May 2000).

Josie Danini Cortez, M.A., coordinates IDRA’s materials development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June July 2000 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.]