A psychologist and an economist walk into a debate about looping.
This whole debate holds the premise that the teacher-student relationship is healthy and positive. Did I miss the “worry” of a student that is stuck with a teacher in a negative loop and can’t reinvent him/her self? I’ve seen many fellow students who chose to shed a “disrespectful / class clown / under achiever” demeanor as they matured and were given a fresh start with a teacher that hadn’t already formed an opinion/relationship.
In other words - changing of environment can foster growth (and vise versa).
I very much respect Matthew Kraft and am so glad to see his voice included. I worry that there's a broad brush approach here to the feasibility of teachers to move from one grade to another. In my experience as a teacher, some educators are learning the content just before (or at the same time!) they are teaching it - they are not experts in content, pedagogy, community engagement, communication, etc. I actually think MK is underselling the level of burnout this would cause. Any new teacher knows that a large part of the first year in a new grade is the time commitment to creating materials and designing lessons - and at a time when educators don't feel like the curriculum they teach is well-supplied (in other words, they're doing a lot of work to supplement it themselves), this is a big flashing red light for me. Love the discussion, though!
As a person who was once a student and had teachers I loved (who loved me back) and teachers I hated (who hated me back) the notion that it's always a good thing to stay with the same one for YEARS strikes me as obviously absurd. I would also add that misreading test scores or joining a Finland cult are two parts of the same problem. That problem being the false belief that you can "hack" education and thereby turn all students wherever they are into overachievers. You cannot. That is because no matter what you do real human kids with real human teachers will have to wrestle with real, difficult subjects in a real classroom in some real place. A place that is probably not Helsinki. And it s no accident that the places with high test scores tend to be wealthy places where there is a culture -- outside the classroom -- of emphasizing academic achievement. It is the parents and the surrounding community that matter, not your tweaks to the system. Even the quality of the teachers has limited effect. I am certain there are great teachers in schools with low test scores doing their best with the fact that they are not teaching in Finland. So stop looking for the magic reform that will turn your school into one in Finland. It does not exist.
At the opposite extreme to looping are children who are forced to switch entire schools periodically throughout their childhood, often breaking any relational connections with their peers and teachers. Does retrospective data amongst this cohort show a strong signal to poorer long term performance? I understand there are a lot of convoluting factors that would muddy signal (as is often the case) but if there were signal here and pooling were not an option, we might enact policies that would limit systematic abruption of interpersonal connections mediated through school
Fascinating topic and can't wait to read the book adam! Love that you invite debate publicly!
I would echo the comments below regarding concerns about looping's potentially negative effects if the relationship is bad. In many domains we find that relationships have a mediating effect on outcomes, which would indicate that it's quite possible for the effect to be either positive or negative depending on the relationship. My best guess is that looping would cause polarising results with some students getting worse, and others getting better. And that the teacher's skills at building relationships and at delivering high quality learning would be the main difference.
Economist John Hattie has reviewed over 1200 meta analyses related to educational outcomes for students from early childhood to tertiary education worldwide. His review uses effect size to compare interventions, and looks for the interventions that have very large effects, well beyond the normal improvements that students typically achieve in a single year.
This massive body of research clearly demonstrates that teachers and teaching practices have huge effects on student outcomes - and not all those effects are positive.
Having reviewed the PISA research extensively during my Phd studies, my sense is that the Estonian and Finlandian results are the result of compounding effects of a group of policies that are aimed at teacher and teaching quality. In the context of high quality teaching, I would expect that looping could have positive effects. But I think that policy makers should look first to improve the quality of teaching practices, and to make teaching a desirable profession before introducing concepts like looping into the equation.
It may seem a simple policy to institute on its face (because it's simple to say and understand), but implementing it in schools is not a simple policy fix. This would take significant effort on the part of policy makers and senior educators in schools, and given the very small effect sizes is very unlikely to be worth the effort.
Music educators frequently loop, having students for multiple years. If they teach just at the high school level, they could potentially see them each year (9-12). If they teach at multiple schools, it could extend past that. When I taught in the public schools, I taught orchestra (5-12), so depending on what school they attended, I had some of my students for 8 years.
When I taught 9-12th English, we used this same model. I taught my 9th graders for 9th and 10th grade and my 11th graders for 11th and 12th. It really helped me build on skills and close skill gaps, not to mention, I knew my kids really really well. Therefore, I could build solid classroom experiences for them that promoted their growth and development.
I can't help but wonder if teachers are treated better in these other countries and have better workloads than the ones given to teachers in the US. - Former middle school teacher
I find this is a fascinating topic, particularly as I am now based in Switzerland, where looping seems to be the norm. Each one of my kids had the same teacher for the two-year kindergarten program, where the older half of the students moved on in the second year. The teachers/classmates remain largely the same for grades 1-3 and again for grades 4-6 (specialized subjects may have different teachers). The secondary schools have some variation of this as well. If you have a good teacher and/or class, it's wonderful, but there is definitely some truth about it being hard on a student when the mix isn't right. Beyond test scores, I think one of the major positive impact is the skew to the long-term thinking that it promotes, including relationship building among the classmates.
We’ve doing this for years in special education settings. Allows for better student-teacher bond and tailoring instruction. How do we scale up looping with limited time for general educators to cross-train and learn other grade level content?
Have always liked the idea - but some barrier to overcome in practice.
As a college prof, I can say that it makes such a difference when I have the same student two semesters in a row. (I know it’s not quite the same thing).
Another aspect to consider is the amount of supplies, books, decorations, etc that teachers buy with their own money. I can't imagine the cost to accumulate all of that for 2 or more grade levels. Until education is properly funded to a level where educators don't have to spend out of their own pocket to create classroom environments conducive to thriving students, the extra personal cost of looping could be another burden on teachers.
In my experience, after over 30 years in elementary education, it’s the quality of the teacher that makes the greatest impact. Looping is AMAZING with a dedicated, enthusiastic educator. It can be devastating with an uninspired, jaded teacher.
I am so happy to see dialogue on education that has the educator's well being in mind! I am a retired elementary school teacher whose job required me to teach all the grades.I was able to follow the development of some students up to 7 years. Looping works because it takes time to learn about a child's needs and their family background. After one school year, you have just gotten a handle on how to teach each kid. Relationships are the missing component in most "new" initiatives. (Usually created by people who are not actively working in the classroom.) Developmentally, certain grades are closer than others. K-1 could work. 1-2 could also work. 3-4 could also work. Teachers could plan a two year curricular rotation. If they are willing, I could see a teacher looping for three years. It depends upon the group of kids and their needs.
Again: THANK YOU for writing with the well being of educators in mind!
Thank you for a really interesting discussion. This could explain another factor of why homeschool students regularly score higher on standardized tests than their counterparts and have higher graduation rates.
Schools in small town Saskatchewan (Canada) often have two or three grades in a classroom so teachers usually have students for more than one year. I chuckled at the comment that "you don't want to make teachers prepare new materials": Each year of my teaching career was different - and it gets to seem normal. There are advantages of having a student for more than one year, even the "undesirable students". The teacher already knows the student so the first months of the second year aren't spent finding the gaps and the learning methods that connect. The year can even be planned with certain students in mind. Factoring in multigrade classrooms would create an interesting element in the looping study!