‘More Time Used Well Has Been Our Mantra’

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 17, 2008 2 min read
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The Center for American Progress is promoting expanded learning time for English-language learners with a report that features several case studies of schools that have extended the school day or year. “It’s common sense” that extra learning time can be particularly beneficial for ELLs because they “have more to learn in less time,” Melissa Lazarin, the associate director of education policy for the Center, said at a forum held yesterday to release the report, “A Race Against the Clock: The Value of Expanded Learning Time for English Language Learners.”

The forum highlighted an interesting effort in Massachusetts that has expanded learning time by at least 300 hours per year in 26 schools. Sarah McLaughlin, the administrator of the office of expanded learning time for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, explained at yesterday’s forum how it worked. She said participating schools are required to use additional school time to teach core academics, provide enrichment activities, and give teachers time to collaborate with each other. Thirteen percent of students in the participating schools are ELLs. Ms. McLaughlin said that the initiative’s leaders have found that “more time alone isn’t going to give us better results.” She added: “More time used well has been our mantra.”

The Massachusetts initiative is being evaluated over three years, and the results for year two will soon be available. It is being funded by the state with $1,300 per pupil each year for the participating schools. Ms. McLaughlin said that though the initiative is a high priority for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, it will not receive additional funds to grow until fiscal year 2011. Ms. McLaughlin said some school districts that want to participate have been turned away because of limited funding.

In “A Race Against the Clock,” Ms. Lazarin notes that research on how expanded learning benefits English-language learners is limited, but a few studies do examine after-school programs in California, which has about a third of the nation’s ELLs. One of those studies is an evaluation of Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning, an after-school program in five California cities. All students who were consistently exposed to literacy-focused instruction improved by almost half a grade level in reading in the first year of the evaluation. ELLs experienced gains similar to those of their English-proficient peers in the program.

By the way, the president and CEO of the Center for Education Progress is John Podesta, who was President Clinton’s chief of staff, and is heading up President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team. He currently is on a leave of absence from the think tank.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.