Curtis M. Clough, Superintendent, Corona (NM) Public Schools

Curtis is a 35-year educator in four states, encompassing public/post-secondary education positions.  He served as the State Administrator-Career and Technical Education for Alaska. He currently serves on the Executive Board of the New Mexico Association of Career/Technical Education (NMACTE) as Chairperson for the Administrative Division. He has collaborated with Workforce-Economic Development entities in his positions and is enthusiastic about affording students opportunities in Career/Technical Education for career readiness. He has held positions with the Grant County Prospectors (President), the Grant County-Silver City Chamber of Commerce, the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation, and the Youth Committee-Eastern District Workforce Board.


The age-old adage that bigger is better or more is better is being challenged in this post-COVID educational environment.  Current society stresses over the abundance of something being available as opposed to the quality of the something that you buy.  Bigger cars are better than smaller ones.  More square footage in the house is better for resale than the quality of the build or style of a smaller house that may have appeal to the person who enjoys certain styles of architecture such as Neo-Modern, Contemporary, or Victorian.  In the educational setting, this very argument is being used on the amount of instructional time a student needs to be successful.  There appears to be a push in some parts of our country, especially in my home state of New Mexico, that increasing instructional time will have a positive impact on student achievement or success.  The thought behind this mirrors society in many ways that more time will lead to more quality of instruction that can cause an improvement in student performance.  This is primarily being pushed from the post-COVID narrative of the “learning loss” that occurred during the pandemic and our students are suffering from being isolated and not exposed to the high-quality, in-person opportunities that we knew coming up through the public education system.  The issue with this way of thinking is that a false narrative is being created that quantity is better than quality as that time needs to be made up and accelerate kids to close “a gap” in their learning.  To me, this narrative needs to be changed.

As any experienced educator, the quality of instruction is the biggest impact on a student’s achievement.  We all have had experiences of having that brand new teacher coming right out of college who was struggling day to day to stay above water versus the experienced, seasoned teachers who have their routines and questioning patterns down to an art form where student engagement or involvement is high.  We all survived those trials in our lives, but we all can relate that each classroom has its own unique set of circumstances where a positive learning environment is created.  We all also have had those experiences where we had that teacher taking a paycheck and acting like the teacher, Ditto, in the movie, Teachers, where it was death by worksheet.  Can we all agree that an engaged, active classroom is best for students?  Whether I completed 5 or 500 worksheets, I was bored and can honestly say that I became a master of playing the game of how to complete them because no teacher has the time to grade all of those papers.  What did I learn?  How to play the game to get the participation grade with the maximum grade with the minimum amount of effort.  Will increasing instructional time impact the behaviors of adults that control how learning occurs in the classroom?  An effort needs to be made to keep improving the quality of instruction in our classrooms instead of more of bad practice that impacts learning environments.

How can this be achieved?  The approach that the New Mexico Legislature took last year in a bipartisan negotiation to embed professional development time as part of the normal workday instead of an add-on of additional days or hours, as is usually considered.   The state of New Mexico is required to have 1140 work hours with 60 hours of professional development for elementary and 30 hours for secondary.  That was an increase of 60 instructional hours that was offset by the compromise to include professional development time as part of the work calendar.  Increasingly, our state is utilizing alternative license teachers with little or no pedagogical background to instruct our students and they are having to complete those requirements along with working the job.  Teacher burnout and loss is a major concern, so allowing districts to value teacher time and include this as part of their work hours has done wonders for morale.  Further, districts are able to focus on district initiatives as well as individualized plans that meet teacher needs instead of a one-size-fits-all model that is 99% of the time designed to meet the professional development hours that are required in state reporting.  The flexibility has allowed districts to truly focus on strategies and practices that best serve our local students instead of doing professional development to check a box that meets the state reporting requirement for teacher in-service.  Professional development is a critical part in establishing best practices that have a positive impact on student achievement and by recognizing that this time is valued as part of a teacher’s work.  This is very important so we can move the needle for student success.

Finally, as any new or experienced educator knows from their pedagogical studies, all students learn at their own pace at their own time.  I remember hearing that over and over again in my various methods classes citing Piaget and others on this.  In today’s educational world, brain-based research shows that teachers creating conditions or environments that can increase student involvement, motivation and retention in the natural ways the brain receives information is a critical way to address learning gaps, not losses.  Gaps occur naturally but can be overcome by accessing the natural ways the brain retains and processes information.  How many of our teachers are experts, or even have studied this new way of thinking in assisting students with how to learn and process?  How many teachers are still utilizing practices that they are comfortable using and have changed very little in their methods from pre-COVID to post-COVID?  Exposing teachers through professional development to new practices and ways of thinking is a positive in our field and needs to be stressed more than ever in this critical time in public education.  Students learn much differently today than we did in my generation.  How can we expect changes to the educational system when the focus is on more time without clearly defining why more time is needed?

In conclusion, adding more instructional time without understanding why the time is needed is a very slippery slope to go down.  Supporting our teachers, administrators, and most importantly, our communities and students with the necessary tools and skills to create a positive learning environment should be the focus.  This “learning loss” that has been publicized is not going to close overnight as a result of the pandemic.  Adding more time to make up for lost time is not the answer either.  Clearly establishing a need for improved practice and upskilling our teachers is a very important aspect to consider if we are going to move the needle on student achievement.  Recognizing the value of this time to our teachers so they can be better equipped to serve our students is an increase in time I can accept, but not at adding hours to instructional time to improve student achievement without the why connected.  This is unacceptable and needs to be examined.  More is better is not the answer, but improving quality through teacher professional development to address the modern issues is the avenue to success that is needed in today’s educational world.

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