The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) has ignited a contentious debate with its proposal to amend school calendar rules, which could result in all schools across the state having a minimum of 180 instructional days per year. The move has drawn mixed reactions, with rural districts, House Republicans, and education officials voicing both support and opposition to the proposal.
Originally, House Bill 130, passed earlier this year, sought to increase instructional time for students by requiring schools with five-day weeks to have 180 days of instructional time, while those with four-day weeks needed 155 days. The proposed change, however, would standardize the requirement at 180 days for all schools, regardless of their weekly schedule.
Nate Williams, Public Information Officer for PED, explained the proposed change, saying, “They could still have four-day-a-week calendars but only for 50 percent of the weeks of the school year. The other 50 percent of weeks would have to be five-day weeks.”
The proposal has faced backlash, particularly from rural school districts that predominantly operate on four-day school weeks. Critics argue that decisions about school calendars should remain local and that this change constitutes top-down interference.
Rep. Ryan Lane, a Republican from San Juan County and the House GOP leader, expressed concerns over the proposal, “We felt that’s a decision that should be made at the local level, number one. Number two, you’re now broaching substantive law. We think that should flow through the legislature since we are the people’s representatives.”
The New Mexico branch of the American Federation of Teachers said in a statement, “The proposed rule would mandate 180 school days – a change in focus from instructional hours – for students exclusive of professional development days. This means educators will likely end up working closer to 190 days, if not longer.”
According to a recent Op-Ed by PED Secretary Aresenio Romero, approximately 20 percent of New Mexico’s 129 school districts currently operate on four-day weeks. Supporters of the four-day school week argue that it can have benefits, including allowing students more time with their families and helping with teacher recruitment and retention.
Romero wrote, “Some of the arguments against the proposed change are that it is not supported by research and that increased instructional time alone does not guarantee improved student outcomes. Factors such as regular attendance, student engagement, smaller class sizes, rigorous learning opportunities, highly qualified teachers, high quality instructional materials and parental and community involvement have more direct impact on student achievement.” Romero continued, “Much of that is true. At PED, we are doing all we can to help students reach the achievement levels we know that they are capable of. We are investing in addressing chronic absenteeism, further implementing Structured Literacy which has proven results, and providing additional support and high-quality instructional materials in math.”
Despite the opposition, PED stands firm on its proposal, citing low proficiency rates among students in the state – 38 percent proficiency in reading and 24 percent in math. The department believes that providing students with more instructional time is necessary to address these educational challenges.
PED also referred to a recent RAND Corporation study, which included New Mexico as a sample, that indicated four-day school weeks could result in learning gaps over time. However, the study also found benefits in these school weeks, such as increased sleep and family time for students and lower costs for districts.
The department is currently collecting public comments on the proposal and has received over 1,100 comments thus far. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, December 18, in Santa Fe.
As part of the public comment process, both the Legislative Education Study Committee and the Legislative Finance Committee have opposed the rule change, alleging the rule change proposal is an overreach of power and violates the legislative process.
The proposed rule change has sparked a robust discussion about the balance between standardizing school calendars and allowing local flexibility to meet the unique needs of communities across New Mexico. As of press time, PED had collected over 1,000 comments on the proposed rule change.