PED Sec. Kurt Steinhaus Urges Schools To Add Learning Time


Public Education Sec. Kurt Steinhaus concluded a series of regional meetings Wednesday in which he urged school leaders to add learning time for students in order to move the needle on educational outcomes in New Mexico and support student well-being.

“After nearly two years of disrupted learning caused by the pandemic, I think everyone with a stake in education now realizes the best tool for that purpose is time – specifically, time children spend with dedicated, highly educated classroom teachers,” Steinhaus said. “When we give kids more of that, their reading ability improves, their math skills grow, and their social and emotional well-being is enhanced.”

He carried that message to more than 100 superintendents and charter school leaders who attended seven regional meetings between Feb. 22 and Wednesday in Bloomfield, Taos, Roswell, Logan, Truth or Consequences, Los Lunas and Rio Rancho.

Traditionally, a typical school day in a U.S. school is about 6 ½ hours long, and a school year is around 180 days – chronologies established in earlier centuries, often to accommodate the needs of agriculture.

“That needs to change if our children are to thrive in a 21st century, global economy,” Steinhaus said.  “The world is a more complex place than it used to be – there’s a lot more to learn than there was in the 1800s.”

He said extending learning time will help keep New Mexico students globally competitive, noting that many districts across the United States are adding classroom time, in part to keep up with India, Japan, China and other countries where students spend almost 30 days more in school than the typical American child. 

Additional instructional time also has been shown to close achievement gaps between at-risk students – those who are English learners, who are economically disadvantaged and who have special needs, for example.

He urged superintendents and charter school leaders to work with their governing boards and communities to adopt one of three state-funded programs to lengthen learning time:

  • The Extended Learning Time Program adds 10 days to the school calendar (eight days for four-day-a-week districts.) This program is particularly appropriate to help students cross the bridge from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school. ELTP has a defined focus on social and emotional learning, and districts and schools design their own programs. Forty-eight districts and 74 state and local charter schools are already participating. Many have established partnerships with businesses and community members to give students an experience based in career-technology during ELTP days. Added bonus: Teachers can increase their salary by 3% annually for participating – on top of the minimum 7% pay raise approved by the Legislature.
  • The K-5 Plus program adds 25 days at the start of the school calendar for the youngest learners (20 days for four-day-a-week districts.) Twelve districts and five charter schools participated in 2020-21, and 16 districts and seven charters are involved this school year. The program was designed to give kindergarten through second-graders a 25-day jump at the start of the school year to help build relationships with the teacher and set the foundation for literacy work. It later expanded to include third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Just like ELTP, districts and schools design their own programs, which can focus on community-based learning, STEAM and STEM projects, youth leadership or social-emotional learning. Added bonus: A 3% salary increase for participating teachers, on top of the minimum 7% all educators are getting.
  • The new K-12 Pilot expands K-5 Plus through high school graduation. The objective is to demonstrate that increased time for all students narrows the achievement gap between at-risk and other students, increases cognitive skills and leads to higher student achievement. K-12 Pilot does not have to be school-wide, and participating districts and charters can choose which grades to begin with and grow the program. School districts with large Native American populations or with fewer than 200 students (listed as rural and remote districts) will be prioritized for the pilot funding and may apply for added flexibility to consolidate sites/classes.
  • The Public Education Department is offering planning grants for districts and state-chartered schools that can’t decide. These grants can be used to fund additional professional development for teachers or to hold community meetings or organize focus groups to help determine which option fits a community best.

Steinhaus also used the regional meetings to discuss education-related legislation passed during the session that ended Feb. 16, including the rollout plan for educator pay raises. Legislators raised minimum salaries by $10,000 for each of the state’s three teaching tiers and approved a 7% raise for all educators.

 The tier minimums will take effect in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The 7% raises will be implemented in two steps: School employees will get 3% in the current fiscal year in the form of a one-time salary adjustment; then they will receive raises averaging 4% on contracts beginning after July 1.

 Additionally, teachers who participate in the K-5 Plus or Extended Learning Time Program will receive an additional 3% – meaning their raises could total 10%.

“I am very grateful to the New Mexico Legislature for funding these well deserved raises for our teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers – everyone who works to keep our schools open. They’re out there on the front lines every day with kids, and we are so grateful for their work,” Steinhaus said.