Editorial: More school, same teacher essential for NM's students - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: More school, same teacher essential for NM’s students

Especially after more than a year out of the classroom, ensuring our kids’ brains get more in-person education should be a no-brainer.

State lawmakers have wisely approved legislation that funds extended learning next school year for districts willing to participate. But they stopped short of making it mandatory, so assuming Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the measure, it’s up to school districts around the state to opt in. Opting in is exactly what should happen, because it’s the right thing to do for students – many of whom have suffered significant learning loss during New Mexico’s extended in-person learning shutdown due to COVID-19.

While it would have been better for the state to make the program mandatory for all public schools, the legislation puts up $280 million to pay for extra days. And it allows schools to implement the additional time – typically 25 days under the K-5 Plus program or 10 extra days for other grades – in ways they believe are most effective and efficient. And this is NOT an unfunded mandate. Teachers will be compensated for the extra time, making an average of 6% more under extended learning or 14% more under K-5 Plus. Educators need to recognize a longer school year will become the new template.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, a retired teacher, said that the state has seen promising results with the programs and that they’re even more crucial now because “we are facing massive learning loss for our most at-risk students.” She said there wasn’t enough House support to make the program mandatory.

The Governor’s Office has signaled its support, and Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said that because of its flexibility, “we fully expect many more districts and schools to adapt an extended school year program in the coming year as a powerful tool to accelerate learning.”

Let’s hope so.

There is plenty of flexibility. Districts have the ability to add days during winter break or at the beginning or end of a school year. Stewart also said a school could, for example, add extra days for a math boot camp in sixth grade or a robotics program in high school.

While the legislation streamlines the application process, it eliminates extra testing requirements for K-5 Plus students – one of the flaws, because it will be more difficult to measure achievement gains. It requires a “good faith attempt” to keep students with the same teacher; this is crucial, because there is general agreement students get, by far, the most bang for the buck if they have the same teacher for the extended days of K-5 Plus. Research on New Mexico’s current K-5 Plus program shows “it was only effective if it was done with the same teacher,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rancho. They are from different political parties, but teacher continuity is an essential ingredient Brandt and Stewart agree on. So does Amanda Aragon, executive director of New MexicoKidsCan. It’s critical, she said, for schools to keep a cohort of students with the same teacher for the extra learning time.

But that ultimately will be up to local administrators and school boards, and APS and other districts have struggled with finding teachers willing to take on the extra time even if they are being paid. APS had limited participation this year, just 10 elementary schools. Associate Superintendent Antonio Gonzales said the district will evaluate its steps for the 2021-22 academic year once the governor takes final action on the bill.

This is an important piece of education reform – one that focuses on high-quality time in the classroom. Legislators have laid the groundwork and put up the money. Now, it’s time for the governor to sign it into law and local districts big and small to step up and fully participate.

The positive impact this will have on our students is proven; and after this past year, our children need whatever support we can give them.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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