Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
From the governor to education officials to lawmakers, momentum is growing to extend class time in public schools.
Top education decision-makers tout the measure as one that can expedite the process of catching up New Mexico’s most “at-risk” students – those with disabilities, Indigenous students, English learners and economically disadvantaged students.
“There is compelling evidence that one of the quickest ways to address what’s in Martinez-Yazzie is providing better use of the time we’ve got, but also providing additional time for learning,” state Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus told the Journal, referencing a landmark decision in a consolidated lawsuit finding the state wasn’t providing a sufficient education to “at-risk” students.
“As a state,” he said, “we’re going to have to address that.”
Three competing proposals are on the table to increase the amount of time students must spend in class – each settling on increasing to at least 1,140 hours per year, an amount that would catapult New Mexico near the top of the list of states in terms of class time, according to national 2020 data.
As of right now, first through sixth graders must go to school for at least 990 hours per year, and secondary students for 1,080.
Two of the three proposals have been introduced in bill form – House Bill 194,the Legislative Finance Committee’s, and House Bill 130, the Legislative Education Study Committee’s – with the latter having already sailed through the House education committee on Friday.
The executive branch’s bill, Steinhaus said, has been written and should be introduced in the coming week.
While all of the proposals appear to meet in the middle on how much class time to require, there’s dispute over how to get there – and, of course, if it’s a good idea.
Not all parents or teachers are on board.
“There is no clear evidence that an extended school year improves student learning,” one parent told lawmakers Friday. “On the other hand, it would increase student absenteeism and fatigue.”
How the proposals differ
Each committee or agency puts a different total price tag on their proposals. The LESC says its proposal would cost over $302 million, the state Public Education Department and the governor say theirs will cost about $311 million, and the LFC says its will run about $391 million.
Extended class time – which could shape up to be one of the more expensive measures on the table this legislative session – is one that states don’t often go for because it’s too expensive, but which New Mexico can currently afford, analysts have said. The state is enjoying a historic oil and gas revenue boom.
Both the PED and the LESC have said the amount the Legislative Finance Committee sets aside to bring all students up to speed on 1,140 hours might not sufficiently fund everyone.
LFC staff, on the other hand, said the committee put in more money than was needed, also pointing out that a sizable chunk of their plan would go to incentivizing students to go even beyond the new minimum class time.
Where schools are
The vast majority of schools and districts abide by the current instructional hour requirements. And some hit the new 1,140-hour mark, according to LESC data, but many don’t. Right now, the average yearly instructional hours of 21 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts meet that new threshold for both age groups. Sixteen more hit 1,140 hours for one of the age groups.
That said, districts average out around 1,098 hours for younger students and around 1,138 for older ones – not terribly far off in either case – making for an average of only about 25 minutes and 12 minutes, respectively, that could be added to each school day.
The proposals differ on how many hours of professional work time to provide staff, whether that time would be included in instructional hours and how much money to distribute for extra class time past the minimum.
Instructional hours, under the LESC bill sponsored by Reps. Joy Garratt and G. Andrés Romero, both Albuquerque Democrats, can include time spent in class, enrichment programs or even breakfast while teaching is happening.
But the key difference of the LESC bill, the committee’s Director Gwen Perea Warniment said, is that up to 60 hours of professional work time could be embedded in school days – an important part, she said, of supporting teachers.
“Sometimes you’ll hear the (term) ‘More is not better, better is better.’ And that’s certainly true in terms of affording educators the opportunity to improve their practice,” she said. “We don’t have the time in the schedules right now to allow them to do that.”
The LFC bill, sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small, a Las Cruces Democrat, and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would require at least 80 hours of professional work time for teachers of schools and districts that exceed 180 days.
That work time would come on top of instructional hours; the PED plan also would require its minimum of 80 hours of professional time to come in addition to instructional hours.
Analysts say having students spend more time in school has a modest – but still significant – impact on reading and math scores, even when accounting for students’ economic disadvantages.
Still, some are questioning if more does indeed mean better – like Claire Love, a first grade teacher at Nina Otero Community School in Santa Fe.
“It (is) a good intention, but the method of just adding a couple more days to a school year, or a couple more minutes to each day of the school year – that’s not going to get us to see the change, the drastic change, of student achievement levels,” she said. “That’s not going to get us to where we need to be.”
Love drew a line between simply tacking on more time and programs like K-5 Plus – a current state program that adds up to 25 days, but which Love said focuses less on grades and more on learning. At least two of the bills, in their current forms, would repeal the program along with the current extended learning time program.
Both programs have seen diminishing participation in recent years, but Love said K-5 Plus works well for many, better preparing students coming into new school years and better preventing teacher burnout.
Since all of the proposals are in early stages of making their way through the Roundhouse, superintendents were hesitant about commenting on them.
Still, some voiced early thoughts and concerns about what they hope the proposals, in general, include.
For example, Silver Consolidated Schools Superintendent Will Hawkins is worried about the impact that increasing class time could have on transportation for students in rural areas, some of whom in his district take 45-minute bus rides each way to get to school.
Hawkins also said he hopes the proposals take into account all of the “little implications” that come with extending class time, like making sure that everyone, including staff such as custodians, are covered for the longer hours they work.
Fully funding the measures, in one way or another, was a sentiment echoed by several districts.
“There’s a lot of little implications when you’re looking at these elements. They seem small, but all these little bitty bites trickle down,” Hawkins said. “As good as it is that we want to increase learning opportunities and improve learning, it also creates more stress on an already stressed system.”
On Friday, Albuquerque Public Schools spoke in support of the LESC bill, adding that the district hopes it’s fully funded. Still, Superintendent Scott Elder told the Journal there are some things to bear in mind, including the impact they could have on younger students.
“You really do run into some issues with the ‘littles,’ the kindergarten kids and everything,” he said. “Although we have seen some real success at our TOPS schools, which are the schools that have the extended day that builds in professional development for teachers, as well as the Genius Hours for the students.”
Others have suggested requiring less than 1,140 hours for younger students, citing issues with transportation.
Elder also said the legislative proposals could take away some choice from districts and communities over whether they want to send students to school longer.
Last year, the APS school board attempted to implement extended learning time districtwide, but was met with thunderous opposition – eventually turning to community surveys to let schools decide what they wanted to do.
“At that point, we had the ability to have some local control, and so we did allow the community to vote and there were some schools that chose to take it on,” Elder said. “But we only have 29 schools total (out of over 140) in that model. The rest have not selected to go that route. This would remove that local control option.”
Many proponents also showed up Friday to voice their support for the LESC plan, which has thus far made it the furthest through the legislative process.
Jeri Lyn Salazar, another teacher at Nina Otero, said she supported the bill and any “other legislation that supports intentional and rigorous programs that will help our students with learning loss, especially learning loss that they experience due to the pandemic.”
The respective presidents of the American Federation of Teachers and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, Whitney Holland and Ellen Bernstein, both spoke in support of the bill, arguing that it benefits both teachers and students.
“While change is often hard and school calendars are incredibly complex, I wholeheartedly believe that we can and should do this because at the end of the day, it is what is best for New Mexico’s kids,” Holland said.
“The idea that extending student time must include adult time is crucial,” Bernstein added later on.
In a written statement to the Journal, Rio Rancho Public Schools spoke to the advantages of extra class time, which the district has had in place for three years.
“This program has allowed our district to offer multiple afterschool enrichment activities free to our students and additional professional development opportunities for staff members,” the district said, noting it would like to see the class-time requirement for younger students lightened.
The LESC bill unanimously passed the chamber’s education committee, with a couple lawmakers giving the bill high marks for its emphasis on increasing hours instead of days.
“I am historically strongly opposed to (extended learning time) … so my support is contingent on the fact that it has hours instead of days … It’s an enormous deal to our small schools,” Rep. Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, said during the meeting Friday. “It’s a big deal to me that it has flexibility, and that we can count and set up a program that fits our school.”
Much remains to be seen on the proposals. So far, the LESC bill hasn’t been scheduled for its next committee assignment, and the other bill hasn’t yet been scheduled to be taken up by a committee.