PUBLIC EDUCATION: New Rule Requires 180+ School Days for New Mexico Students to Help Boost Performance

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After nearly three months of debate, a new Public Education Department rule requiring school districts and charter schools to operate on calendars of 180 instructional days went into effect last week.

The rule will mandate 180 instructional days in every school district’s and charter school’s academic year – not just 1,140 instructional hours, as a law enacted in 2023 required.

But just as importantly, the rule also creates a process for districts and charters to qualify for exemptions from this requirement. There are four ways a school district or charter school can be exempt from this calendar requirement next year:

  • If the district or charter has an overall reading proficiency rate below 45% AND showed at least 15 percentage points of growth between last school year (2022-2023) and this school year (2023-2024);
  • If the district or charter has an overall reading proficiency rate between 45% and 65% AND showed at least 10 percentage points of growth between last school year and this school year;
  • If the district or charter has an overall reading proficiency rate between 65% and 80% AND showed at least 8 percentage points of growth between last school year and this school year; OR
  • If a district or charter has an overall reading proficiency rate of 80% or higher.

For years, state education experts have emphasized increased learning time as an important lever in raising student performance. It’s the thinking that was behind programs like K-3 Plus, K-5 Plus and K-12 Plus, programs that funded an additional 10 or even 20 school days for certain schools’ academic calendars, and the state’s Extended Learning Time Program, which incentivized more instructional time with greater flexibility for district and charter leaders, like the ability to lengthen school days instead of adding them. The Chamber has been a vocal supporter of efforts to increase instructional time through programs like these, as well as through evidence-based programs that re-engage students with excessive absences.

But PED found that not all schools increased their students’ instructional time when this 2023 law took effect. In fact, 53 districts and charter schools across the state actually decreased their instructional hours, and 87 decreased their instructional days to satisfy the state’s minimum requirement based on hours of instruction. That’s not how that’s supposed to work!

It’s our opinion that this rule will increase accountability for districts and charter schools in putting our students first to give them the dedicated time they need to learn, while rewarding strong growth in student achievement with more flexibility. The rule is agnostic on the length of school weeks – rural districts have made it clear they want to keep their four-day school weeks to save on the transportation costs of lengthy bus routes and to recruit and retain teachers. The bottom line: districts and charters owe it to their students to teach them for 180 days a year – unless they demonstrate, beyond a doubt, that they can help their students achieve proficiency with less instructional time.

And, the growth needed for exemption from this rule is possible. Albuquerque Collegiate Charter School, right in our local community, topped charts in the 2022-2023 school year with an amazing 35.5% reading proficiency growth. The K-5 school jumped from 33% to 68.1% of students reading on or above grade level in a single academic year. We would guarantee that was no easy feat, but it proves it can be done.

Albuquerque Public Schools’ 2024-2025 school year calendar exemplifies the balance the 180-day rule creates. Approved by the APS School Board in February, the calendar was based on the input of more than 13,000 district students and parents to give them a more regular schedule – the calendar lengthens the summer break and shortens Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks accordingly. But it also keeps student performance at the forefront, with more uninterrupted five-day weeks than the current calendar to give students greater continuity.

It won’t be an easy road to increase New Mexico’s average reading proficiency rate from its disappointing 38%. But it is possible – it just requires the commitment of the adults in our districts and schools to accomplish, and that starts with a willingness to put in the necessary time. School calendars with a full 180 days are one tool that will help us get there.

To read the Chamber’s op-ed published in last Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal, click here.

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