This year marks the 40th anniversary of a report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education titled, A Nation at Risk, which described America’s public education system as suffering from a “rising tide of mediocrity” and documented that students were falling behind other nations. In four decades, we have not turned the tide.
One major recommendation in the report was to significantly increase learning time. In Think New Mexico’s 2022 roadmap of education reforms, we cited more recent studies showing improved academic outcomes with increased learning time. A study from economists at Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania found that a longer school year showed an “extremely robust” association with higher student achievement. Out of 21 characteristics studied, extended learning time had the greatest impact. Likewise, when New Mexico implemented K-3 plus in 2007 at high-poverty elementary schools, students who attended more days scored 8% higher in math and 11% higher in reading.
We applaud the governor for her support of extended learning time and commend legislators for proposing two bills that, while they differ in details, both increase learning time to 1,140 hours, or 150 more hours for elementary students and 60 more for middle and high schools. (Currently, those numbers are 990 and 1,080, respectively.)
Think New Mexico supports both HB130, sponsored by Reps. Andrés Romero and Joy Garratt and Sen. Mimi Stewart, and HB194, sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small and Sen. Mimi Stewart. We especially appreciate that HB194 goes further for students and teachers by giving school districts extra funding to support teachers with 80 hours of professional development, planning and collaboration time on top of the increased instructional hours. Meanwhile, HB130 allows districts to add 60 hours of teacher work time, but those are carved out of the additional student instructional hours. Time for teachers shouldn’t compete with time for students. We should give this reform its best shot to succeed by maximizing student time.
The primary arguments against the bills are that more time could lead to student and teacher burnout and that other supports are equally deserving of funding. We support a “complete package” of reforms moving through the session, including improved teacher and principal training and smaller class sizes. These all have a direct impact on what we can achieve in our classrooms.
As an educator, it was heartbreaking to inform parents how far behind their child had fallen. In my last classroom, seven of my 21 third graders struggled to read basic words. We didn’t have a reading interventionist, small-group tutoring, nor adequate time to plan for so many varied student needs. We all needed more time and support.
In-school tutoring is a great way to use additional time wisely. Many students can’t stay after school because of transportation issues, nor can many utilize online programs because they don’t have adequate internet access. Another way to implement extended time is to provide in-school enrichment in everything from the arts and STEM to cultural activities important to communities. Enriching activities that motivate students to learn can level the playing field for those who aren’t getting enrichment outside of school. There also would be more time for meeting students’ social and emotional needs, a growing concern among parents and educators alike.
Optimizing time for learning is a proven reform and was identified as a step the state should take to meet obligations of a 2018 district court ruling that stated that our education system had violated students’ constitutional right to an adequate education.
By embracing transformative ideas, we can create a rising tide of excellence that our students deserve. Ensuring that we have time to meet all of their needs is a foundational first step.
If you agree, please visit the Action Center on Think New Mexico’s website at www.thinknewmexico.org and contact your legislators and the governor.
Mandi Torrez is the Education Reform Director for Think New Mexico and is the 2020 New Mexico Teacher of the Year.