Optimize Time for Teaching & Learning
Issue Summary News Policy Report Take Action On This Issue
2023 Legislative Update
Increasing learning time is one of the most effective strategies for improving student proficiency and closing achievement gaps. During the 2023 legislative session, House Bill 130 and House Bill 194 were both introduced to increase the minimum number of instructional hours from the current 990 for elementary school and 1,080 for middle and high school to 1,140 for all students.
Think New Mexico supported both bills, but we preferred House Bill 194 because it included 80 hours of paid professional development and planning time for teachers in addition to the 1,140 instructional hours. By contrast, as it was introduced House Bill 130 allowed up to 60 hours of the 1,140 to be used for teacher training. Time for teachers and time for students are both essential, and they should not be in competition with one another. However, HB 194 never received a hearing in the House Education Committee, so House Bill 130 became the only opportunity to advance this reform.
Two positive changes were made to House Bill 130 as it made its way through the legislative process: first, on the House Floor, the bill was amended to incentivize school districts to increase their number of instructional days, not just hours. Then, in the Senate Finance Committee, House Bill 130 was amended to limit the number of instructional hours that can be used for professional development and planning time for teachers to 30 hours in middle and high school (it remains at 60 hours for elementary school).
As a result, HB 130 guaranteed that elementary school students will receive at least 90 additional hours of actual learning time, and middle and high school students will receive at least 30 additional hours. This represents significant progress in increasing time for teaching and learning, and am important step toward recovering the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. School districts have flexibility about how to implement the increased time.
House Bill 130 passed the House 62-0, the Senate 34-6, and was signed into law by the governor on Thursday, March 16, 2023. Read a guest editorial from our Education Reform Director Mandi Torrez on the benefits of this reform.
Four decades of research have found that there is a significant positive correlation between student achievement and the amount of time that students spend engaged in instructional activities.
New Mexico statute sets minimum hourly requirements of five and a half hours per day or a total of 990 hours per school year for full-day-kindergarten through sixth grade, and six hours per day or a total of 1,080 hours per school year for seventh through twelfth grade. In both cases, that equates to 180 school days per year.
However, a 2016 analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee estimated that approximately 32% of that time is actually spent on non-instructional activities like parent teacher conferences, home visits, and professional development. These are valuable and necessary activities that can lead to better student outcomes, but hours spent on these tasks should not count as instructional time because these hours are not spent teaching and learning.
In addition, although the legislature and governor have appropriated enough funding to provide extended learning time for every school in the state via programs like K-5 Plus K-5 Plus (25 additional days for kindergarten through fifth graders) and Extended Learning Time (10 additional days), school districts had the option of whether or not to implement the additional school days, and the vast majority have chosen not to.
Think New Mexico recommends that the legislature and governor explicitly exclude home visits, parent teacher conferences, professional development, and early release from the calculation of the minimum requirement for instructional hours.
In addition, we recommend that the legislature and governor increase the minimum instructional time for all students to 1,170 hours—the equivalent of an extra hour a day for elementary school students and a half hour a day for middle and high school students.
In addition to the need to add more time to the school day and the school year, New Mexico students would benefit academically from a balanced school calendar.
The traditional school calendar dates as far back as territorial days. Under this antiquated system, most school district calendars generally allow for 10–12 weeks of summer vacation. Abundant research has shown that this lengthy break leads to “summer learning loss,” which forces many teachers to re-teach skills and content in the fall that had been covered in the previous spring because students forgot them during the long summer vacation.
A balanced calendar shortens the summer break and adds more frequent and longer breaks throughout the rest of the school year. Districts and schools that have implemented this sort of calendar have found benefits not only for students but also for reducing burnout among teachers and staff. Nationally, there is growing momentum toward balanced calendars among districts and charter schools. In 1985 there were 410 public schools with a balanced calendar. By 2012, the last year for which data has been reported, that number had grown to more than 3,700 public schools. Here in New Mexico, both Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences have recently adopted balanced calendars.
We recommend that New Mexico’s legislature and governor incentivize districts to shift to a balanced calendar in order to reduce summer learning loss.