by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • January 1997

Dr. Abelardo VillarrealOn a healthy body, a simple band-aid will help the healing of a wound. But an unhealthy body runs a higher risk of complications such as an infection, so a simple Band-Aid will not do the job. More has to be done.

Organizations basically operate on the same premise. Schools are no exception. Some schools are, for the most part, effective in meeting the needs of a diverse student population. Any need that may surface will be minor and can be addressed through a short-term measure.

There are other situations where a segment of the student population is not achieving as well as other students. These students are being neglected. They do not have equal access to appropriate educational opportunities.

A schoolwide approach provides schools the opportunity to address student needs more holistically. D. August, et al., define the philosophy behind schoolwide programs: “When a large proportion of students in a school are in need, the best way to upgrade the educational experience for those students is to improve the program for the entire student body” (1995).

Furthermore, the philosophy is based on the premise that specific needs of economically disadvantaged students and students from diverse cultural backgrounds are symptomatic of many school variables that are not functioning in productive ways or in concert for the benefit of all student populations. Schoolwide programs allow for careful and comprehensive planning so that the impact of variables and factors can be better understood and addressed to benefit all students.


Bilingual education proponents and many parents of limited-English-proficient (LEP) children perceive two statements from federal documents as creating some ambiguity as to how federal funding can be used. The Bilingual Education Act, for example, is very focused on its intent and purpose. Recent statements on the use of various federal program funds for schoolwide programs, though, communicate a sense of extreme flexibility. They also state that a school may “use funds received under Subpart 1 of the Bilingual Education Act to support its schoolwide program provided that it improves instruction and other services for limited-English-proficient children in school” (Federal Register, 1995). This second statement may be interpreted superficially to mean that schools can use the funds in any area even when justification from an instructional dimension is unclear.

For example, the possibility of abuse in the use of federal funds destined to meet the needs of LEP students becomes a real concern when funds are used to attend leadership conferences and this activity is not part of the school’s improvement plan to raise achievement levels of LEP students. This paradox has caused anguish and concern among many bilingual educators because of the lack of specific guidelines to ensure that funds earmarked for LEP children produce the impact expected in the legislation.

The concern is justified and becomes even more disturbing when we witness administrators who talk about schoolwide projects and say things like, “Now we can use federal funds for anything we want” and “We have all this money that we do not know what to do with.” These comments become especially troublesome when no one seems to be able to articulate the manner in which the funds will improve the educational achievement of students.

In all fairness, administrators have been provided little, if any, direction on the integration of federal funds and resources in a schoolwide project. Many school administrators welcome ideas on how to assess the degree to which their campus is implementing a genuine schoolwide reform project and a set of indicators that they can use to make this assessment. In essence, they would welcome more specific guidelines for ensuring schoolwide program success for all students.

The purpose of this article is to synthesize the literature on effective schoolwide reform strategies used in campuses that have been successful with LEP students and to provide school administrators and site-based committee members with some insights on how to effectively plan improvement on a campus with a diverse student population.

Research Base for Schoolwide Reform that is Effective with LEP Students

While defining initiatives for a schoolwide program, principals and the site-based committee members at campuses with LEP students would benefit from a framework that integrates schoolwide research findings with specific findings about successful schools with LEP students. In other words, the framework defines each finding as it relates to campuses with LEP students. I have consulted and gleaned critical information from the following sources to propose a framework for addressing the needs of LEP students in a schoolwide program.

  • Researchers like E. Pechman and L. Fiester (1994) and S. Stringfield, MA Millsap, E. Scott and R. Herman (1996) have documented the features of successful schoolwide programs, and they have validated the original premise on which schoolwide programs were established.
  • Pechman and Fiester provide ideas and suggestions on how successful reform movements have incorporated efforts to improve the achievement levels of LEP students (1994).
  • B. McLeod summarized findings of a four-year study conducted through 12 U.S. Department of Education projects that studied education reform efforts in various areas including student diversity and students considered at risk (1996). These findings are summarized in four booklets that address language development, curriculum and instruction, school organization, and parent involvement.
  • E.E. Garcia surveyed seven effective bilingual education classrooms in three Phoenix-area elementary schools and identified characteristics in six areas that were common in these classrooms: school leadership and processes, social climate, curriculum, instruction, staffing, and assessment (1987).
  • The Charles A. Dana Center, with support from the STAR Center, studied 26 successful schools (schools that had a high percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches) in Texas and organized their findings into six themes. Successful schoolwide programs: (1) focus on the academic success of every student, (2) make no excuses, (3) experiment, (4) are inclusive: everyone is part of the solution, (5) have a sense of family, (6) demonstrate collaboration and trust, and (7) have a passion for learning and growing (Lein, Johnson and Ragland, 1996).
  • IDRA conducted a survey of schools that were successful as demonstrated through their high achievement on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. Its findings show that schools require both a long-term and short-term improvement initiative – in other words, an overall health improvement as well as a Band-Aid for the current specific ailment (Villarreal, 1994).
  • A group of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin collaborated with the Education Service Center at Region I in Texas to study schools in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Their findings are organized around several themes: school-community collaborations, educational resources and outcomes, writing instruction for linguistically diverse students, psychoeducational assessment of linguistically diverse students, speech-language assessment, effective governance and administrative support patterns, and best practices (Reyes and Scribner, 1995).
  • Dr. José A. Cárdenas proposes a “theory of incompatibilities” that comprehensively affects the quality of educational programs for LEP students (1995). Since then, other research findings have supported this “theory of incompatibilities.”
  • A recent newsletter on issues in school reform published by the US Department of Education indicates that four characteristics were common in effective schoolwide programs (see box on page 6): driven by vigorous standards, offering a high-quality curriculum, comprehensively planned and results-oriented (US Department of Education, 1996).

Effective Schoolwide Reform Indicators for Campuses with LEP Students

With the Pechman and Fiester findings as a framework for schoolwide reform along with other related research, four indicators emerge that are central to effective schools for LEP students. These four indicators are further defined with program features that create opportunities for LEP students to succeed academically.

Rigorous Standards

Successful campuses for LEP students have the perception that LEP students can and will learn just like other students. A perception to the contrary is a big obstacle that impairs or diminishes the impact of any schoolwide reform effort.

Standards are measures of accomplishment that reflect the school’s commitment to rigor and hard work to challenge all students to high levels of achievement. They are the criteria used to assess program implementation efforts and results. Schools establish standards for overall performance, student performance, teacher performance and operating procedures. Effective schools for LEP students are characterized by the following. Standards:

  • Conform to high expectations for LEP students.
  • Are established by key stakeholders and include parents of LEP students.
  • Are rigorous for all students.
  • Guide the design and implementation of an educational program that integrates and addresses the needs of all students, including LEP students.
  • Are used to monitor the pace and quality of progress.
  • Define a time frame for the accomplishment of goals.
  • Are used to establish measures of success for all key stakeholders, including parents of LEP students.
  • Define the organization as pro-active, adaptable and flexible.
  • Define leadership expectations.

High Quality Curriculum

Schools that are effective for LEP students have a flexible, high quality curriculum that has been designed specifically to address the needs of a particular campus. These schools use research to identify strategies that have proven to be effective with LEP students. They study this research, select strategies and adjust them to conform to the characteristics and needs of the campus.

These schools do not have a program for LEP students as an addendum to an instructional program on the campus. Instead, the program adjustments implemented to meet the needs of LEP students are an integral part of the regular curriculum. LEP students are not segregated and identifiable as a special group among teachers and students. They are an integral part of the entire school organization. They belong to school families, villages or learning communities. They do not form one learning community or village, but rather belong to several different ones. They are consistently assessed and monitored to ensure that progress is made at an appropriate pace.

Teachers of LEP students are not isolated; they experience a sense of belonging. They do not plan separately. If planning by grade level, they are an integral part of the grade-level team. They are risk-takers and experiment with new ideas. Being proactive and innovative are characteristics of teachers of LEP students. The “healthy” school culture promotes and rewards this type of behavior. They are action researchers who monitor their actions and their impact on student achievement. They take full responsibility for the achievement of all students and never blame students or parents for achievement shortcomings. They do not make excuses.

Teachers of LEP students – as well as the entire school staff of all teachers, counselors, secretaries, cafeteria staff and administrators – value and acknowledge the linguistic and cultural background of a diverse student population. In most effective “healthy” schools, the teachers seek to refine and upgrade their teaching skills periodically through university training or in-service training provided through the school in collaboration with federal and state-funded technical assistance and training centers.

All teachers on the campus consider students’ families as an integral part of the learning and teaching community. They articulate this feeling to parents and demonstrate it through meaningful interactions. Parents take part in setting goals and defining standards, and they set standards for their own performance as partners in the educational endeavor.

Furthermore, a high quality curriculum is guided by the following additional indicators:

  • Decisions emerge from a comprehensive needs assessment that embodies the essence of student diversity.
  • Needs assessment is ongoing and is not a specific event that happens only during the summer or at the beginning of the school year.
  • Continuous student assessments in core areas of literacy development, mathematics, science and social studies are used to adjust instruction periodically.
  • Curriculum and instruction decisions are complemented by a conducive school climate and environment that considers LEP students as central to its mission.
  • Educational improvement plans are the result of teachers, parents and administrators collectively and collaboratively making decisions and planning.
  • Decisions reflect a recognition of what we know about language acquisition and transferability of knowledge across languages.
  • Curriculum and instruction are carefully planned, are multidimensional and provide learning opportunities that cater to a variety of learning styles and language proficiency levels.
  • Administrators and teachers are LEP student advocates. They have high expectations and establish high standards of student achievement.

Coordinated Federal Resources

Effective schools leverage federal funds and plan their use carefully to ensure the integrity of their intent and purpose. Administrators have a global picture of how different variables affect the quality of education provided to a target population. These administrators and teachers extend the use of the funds school-wide to include those factors that need attention and contribute to the needs of the target population. These funds are treated as supplemental to local funds, and their flexibility is evidenced in their allocations to different activities that not only benefit the target population but also the whole student population. At no time are federal funds allocated without substantial justification as to how the target population will benefit. Federal funds are never used so that local funding can be redirected or channeled to other unrelated areas.

In effective schools, teachers and administrators are always cognizant of the local responsibility, both fiscally and programmatically, for the improvement of the target population’s achievement. Federal funding provides the resources and the impetus to address the needs in an even more comprehensive manner. Effective “healthy” schools think and act in the following manner:

    Use federal resources as supplemental.

  • Operate from an improvement plan that defines the strategies and initiatives to address all students’ needs.
  • Use federal resources to supplement local funds earmarked to support the improvement plan.
  • Monitor and evaluate progress in areas of need supported by federal resources.
  • Articulate clearly how federal funds are having an impact on areas supported by federal legislation.

Goals and Results Orientation

Effective schools for LEP students have specific student performance goals and check results periodically to ensure that progress is being made at an adequate pace. They ensure that gaps do not exist among different student populations. They have a system of evaluation that periodically provides them with critical information to adjust instruction accordingly.

In summary, effective schools for all children review achievement data and use that data to guide the planning of initiatives directed at improving the achievement of the whole school. Effective schools for all children recognize the demands of a diverse student population and plan accordingly. Effective schools for all children use research as a basis for creating the climate and environment for improved achievement.

Effective schools form meaningful partnerships with families, the community and the business sector. They establish high standards and reach them. They also leverage federal funds to increase their impact. Overall, the whole school shares a belief that success is attainable and that the school can make a positive difference in the lives of all students. Doing so, helps to sustain good health, which, after all, creates limitless possibilities for all students.


August, D. and K. Hakuta, F. Olguin, D. Pompa. LEP Students and Title I: A Guidebook for Educators. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, 1995).

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

Federal Register. (Thursday, September 21, 1995) Vol. 60, No. 183.

Garcia, EE”Effective Schooling for Language Minority Students, New Focus, NCBE Occasional Papers in Bilingual Education, No. 1. (Wheaton, Maryland: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1987).

Lein, L. and J.F. Johnson, M. Ragland. Successful Texas Schoolwide Programs: Research Study Results. (Austin, Texas: Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, October 1996).

McLeod, B. Educating Students from Diverse Linguistic and Cultural Backgrounds. (Santa Cruz, Calif.: The Bilingual Research Center, Internet posting, 1996).

Pechman, E. and L. Fiester. An Idea Book: Implementing Schoolwide Projects. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Service, 1994).

Reyes, P. and J.D. Scribner. Effective Border Schools Research and Development Initiative. (Edinburg, Texas: Education Service Center, Region I, 1995).

Stringfield, S. and MA Millsap, E. Scott, R. Herman. The Three-Year Effects of 10 Promising Programs on the Academic Achievement of Students Placed At-risk. (Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University, 1996).

US Department of Education. Improving America’s Schools: A Newsletter on Issues in School Reform, working document. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Education, October 1996).

Villarreal, A. “Site-based Decision Making: Crafting Educational Excellence for Limited-English-Proficient Students,” Compendium of Readings in Bilingual Education. (San Antonio, Texas: Texas Association for Bilingual Education, 1994).

Dr. Abelardo Villarreal is the division director of the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 1997 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.]