I'm a parent of a preschool-aged child in an urban region of the US. He'll be entering kindergarten in a year or two and we have a number of options for primary schools in the area, offering various programs and curricula (e.g., GATE, Waldorf, Montessori).
Some of these programs follow the practice of looping, where students have the same primary instructor from year to year, potentially for as much as the first nine years of their classroom education. I have no direct experience with looping; when I was in elementary school, I attended what I consider to be a more traditional program, with teachers assigned to particular grade levels and students changing classrooms and teachers each year upon moving up a grade.
I'm not sure how to evaluate looping as a component of the programs available to my son starting in kindergarten. Kids can have better and worse relationships with their teachers—and so can parents. It seems obvious that looping would provide very different experiences, when the student and teacher are together for many years, based on whether these relationships are particularly good or bad.
The potential benefits of an extended positive relationship seem attractive but I had more than one negative experience with a teacher when I was young, where I felt like I just had to survive and cope with the bad relationship until the year or semester ended and we could both move on. Not having the option to do that, short of changing schools (definitely undesirable), seems alarming to me, especially in the first few years of a kid's education.
Looping is particularly emphasized in the Waldorf approach, where students may stay with the same primary instructor for 6 to 12 years. (From what I've read, the latter extreme seems more common in European than in American Waldorf schools.) There's some quantitative research around the effectiveness of Waldorf methods (e.g., examining student creativity1, science education2 or implementation in a public setting3) but, while looping is suggested as an area for further research4, the papers coming up on a Google Scholar search for "education looping" haven't been helpful. Most are not available to me to read and/or focus exclusively on the minimal version of looping, where the term of the student-teacher (and -parent) relationship is extended only to two years total. In our case, there is no real middle option of only looping for two years; either we can choose a traditional program with new teachers every year, or programs with what I'll call "extended" looping of six or more years with the same teacher (à la Waldorf).
How are educational outcomes for primary schoolchildren affected by this practice of extended looping?
My spouse and I consider the cost of changing schools outside of the normal transition years between primary and secondary schools to be very high, based on our own experiences as children. This makes where to start school a particularly important choice we're making on behalf of our child, so we need to consider evidence-based implications for any and all areas of development (not purely academics).
- Ogletree, E. J. (1996). The Comparative Status of the Creative Thinking Ability of Waldorf Education Students: A Survey.
- Jelinek, D., & Sun, L. (2003). Does Waldorf offer a viable form of science education. Sacramento, CA: CSU College of Education.
- Friedlaender, D., Beckham, K., Zheng, X., & Darling-Hammond, L. Growing a Waldorf-Inspired Approach in a Public School District.
- Oberman, I. (2007). Learning From Rudolf Steiner: The Relevance of Waldorf Education for Urban Public School Reform. Online Submission.