Pro's and Con's of Looping
school is thinking about moving to "looping," or grouping the same kids with
the same teacher for several years in a row. Other schools in this area have
two-grade classrooms, and it seems that parents like it as long as your child
doesn't get a mediocre teacher. Is this a good idea?
"Looping" is a special education technique that is
thought to be very helpful for special-needs children, including the gifted,
the disadvantaged, the deaf, the mentally challenged, and those for whom
English is a second language.
It's a variation of the old model of the one-room
schoolhouse, in which one teacher handles children of a wide variety of ages
who are at different developmental and academic stages. Because the teacher has
time to get to know the children very well, delivery of the curriculum is
individualized and fairly successful. There appears to be a faster start for
the second and subsequent school years, since the teacher knows the kids and
vice versa. That's why "looping" is thought to be an answer for closing the
achievement gap between inner-city and suburban schoolchildren, when combined
with better-qualified teachers for inner-city schools.
That doesn't mean, however, that "looping" makes sense
for the vast majority of students, who don't have special needs. There's no
evidence that it pays off in higher academic achievement.
It should be noted that the one-room schoolhouse of
America's past was in a context in which there wasn't any choice. There weren't
any alternatives to grouping the children all in one room, other than making
everybody homeschool. There were no other schools for miles, no government
infrastructure, no vast revenue sources, in the rural communities that ran the
one-room schools. Today's schools have many more options, except in our
remaining rural areas. And there are economies and efficiencies that come from
grade-level age-grouping when there are no special needs to consider.
One of the main advantages of grade-level grouping with a
different teacher each year is to ensure that each child has an equal chance to
be in a classroom with an excellent teacher. If the teacher in a multiage
classroom isn't excellent, that child's academic development can be
Only a certain percentage of teachers have the
adaptability and intelligence to make a multiyear class work well; for most
teachers, it's too much to ask on top of all the other tasks we're piling on
them, and the children get shortchanged.
What goes wrong? Observers say that, after two years with
the same kids, often a teacher will slide into the role of a coddling,
overprotective parent, rather than an objective, arms-length teacher.
They also say that a teacher's
weak teaching areas cause significantly more deficiencies in a child who stays
with that teacher for more than one year. The weaknesses are magnified,
regardless of how much the teacher's strengths in other areas might be helping
the child. It becomes more and more difficult to remediate, the older the child
Progressive concepts such as "peer
tutoring" often come along with multiage grouping, with older students helping
younger ones. While this is a good idea to a point, it can become a detriment
to the academic progress of the older, sharper kids. Their own progress is held
back while they are helping a younger child with material they've already
mastered. Everyone tends to be compared to the norm for the class, instead of
point toward a higher level of accomplishment.
Another common component of
"looping" is that, often, traditional grading - A, B, C, D and F -- goes by the
wayside. While this may fit better with the multiage philosophy, it deprives
parents of important accountability information on which to base their
satisfaction with their child's effort and progress.
Homework: Here's a thought-provoking article
by Kati Haycock for the Education Trust which discusses research that shows it
can take two or more years for a child to recoup skills not learned in an
ineffective teacher's class: http://www.nesinc.com/PDFs/1999_04Haycok.pdf
Her conclusion: low standards, low-level curriculum, and undereducated teachers
are what need to change, not the way we group kids.