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K-3 Plus should be mandatory, expert says

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The “K-3 Plus” program that extends the academic year at low-income schools is showing enough promise that New Mexico should consider making it mandatory, a national expert told state lawmakers on Thursday.

“The kids who need it most are not the ones who come,” said Jeannie Oakes, a presidential professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The program is now voluntary for students at eligible schools throughout the state. It’s available at schools where 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and at schools that are rated poorly by the state.

Oakes told lawmakers Thursday that the program is proving to be a successful way to expand learning time and close the achievement gap among students in different demographic groups, especially when combined with pre-kindergarten.

But making it a mandatory, schoolwide program at elementary schools that serve low-income families could build on that success, she said. The extra five weeks of instruction would be a regular part of the year for every student and teacher at those schools, Oakes said.

She delivered her presentation Thursday to the Legislative Finance Committee as part of a discussion about boosting instructional time in public schools.

During a regular school day, instructional time is lost to late starts, recess, feeding hungry kids, testing, preparing for tests and behavioral disruptions, according to a 2016 report by analysts for the LFC.

Nearly one-third of instructional time during a school year is lost, the report said, and the amount of time lost directly affects student achievement.

But it isn’t enough, Oakes said, to just add a few minutes to the school day. The quality of the time is critical, she said, and the K-3 Plus program is a successful way to do it.

“It’s built a great foundation here in New Mexico,” Oakes said.

New Mexico is already pushing more money into K-3 Plus. Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration announced earlier this month that a record $29 million was awarded to schools this summer for the program, enough to serve about 23,000 students.

No one offered an estimate Thursday of how much it might cost to make K-3 Plus mandatory. But legislative analysts have previously estimated it would cost about $62 million to cover the “remaining statewide need” and serve the total number of students eligible for the program.

The program is now offered for students in kindergarten through third grade. The state is also trying out a pilot program for fourth- and fifth-graders.

In Albuquerque, it’s free and available to students at 38 elementary schools.

Generally speaking, Oakes said, more and better instructional time means more and better learning for students. But when there isn’t enough instructional time, she said, children from poor families suffer the most.

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