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.