How are they doing after Reggio Emilia schooling?
July 27, 2012 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Please help me learn about outcomes from Reggio Emilia and similar project-based, progressive educational systems.

We're considering whether to switch to a Reggio Emilia school for our son, who has been doing quite well at a more traditional elementary school. We'd been very excited about R.E. back when we were looking at kindergardens, and now have the option because of a surprise 2nd grade opening at a local charter school (in Baltimore.)

While I've been able to find descriptions of the curriculum, I haven't been able to find anything about outcomes. Does the lack of rigor lead to gaps that matter? Do the kids do well in terms of long-run things like magnet high school and college placement?

Some things I've heard/impressions I've gotten.

The particular school has very low test scores. I take scores with a big grain of salt. For instance I know a really good school will get dinged if it has an excellent special ed program because it will attract more learning disabled kids and they get averaged together. I'm sure that's not the reason for this small school's scores, but I know there are lots of things that can affect scores.

I've heard it suggested that Reggio Emilia test scores are low in the early years because they're not focused on skills, but then the kids do much better than their peers later on because of all the emphasis they had on creative problem solving and critical thinking skills. Is that for real? Are they actually better historians/scientists/engineers/businessfolk than similar kids who do skills work, or is that just the expectation because they're investing so much time in it.

And are the gaps problematic in the long run? I heard an anecdote of a chemist tutoring his kid at home in math because the prep was weak.

Perhaps specific to this particular school, or perhaps more general to the curriculum and to the children it attracts (maybe kids who have trouble with traditional curricula?) I've also heard complaints about disorder from parents who didn't like it.

All that's the negative stuff, which is mostly what I've heard since I've been asking about it. What sounds great (in my still-pretty-vague impressions) is all the individual attention to the learner and what makes them tick, and perhaps the satisfaction the kids may feel at sinking their teeth into large projects.

Well I welcome comments on these particular impressions, but my main question is: can I learn anything real about outcomes of these programs?
posted by spbmp to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Skimming the wikipedia article, it sounds not at all dissimilar to Montessori, which I attended through first grade. I came out far ahead in math and reading, did well at very high powered magnet schools and ended up with a shitload of AP credits.

That said, many of us were there precisely because we were self motivated and none of my peers at the high powered math magnet went through similar programs that I know of, and our academic histories were a topic of conversation..
posted by cmoj at 6:17 PM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: Honestly having taught in an urban educational environment I think the specific school is more important than the programs they implement. Do you have the opportunity to tour/visit the school? That's what I'd check out; Reggio Emilia can be great if it is implemented correctly but if the school isn't a safe and healthy environment for your kid (and complaints about "disorder" imply this to me) it's not the right place. On the other hand if it's well run but chaotic in a learning-focused way (which is totally possible if the kids are actually engaged and they are genuinely working on projects) then that could be really positive.

My instinct is that if your son is doing well in his current school I see no reason to move him, but if you are still thinking about it I would really make sure that you check out this particular school and not just Reggio Emilia programs in general.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:41 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

My son is in a Reggio preschool with teachers from the town of Reggio Emilia - where they teach in Italian. Unfortunately, they weren't able to hold a program this summer. At his more traditionally academic summer school, my wife and I, as well as his teachers, have observed a significant difference between our kid's ability to work in groups vs. the kids who attend the school during the regular school year.

Obviously too early to really answer your questions, but we chose Reggio because we figured there'd be a time and place for more traditional academics. Given most kids' first real exposure to working in teams and groups comes pretty late in middle or high school, we wanted the wiring put in early.

MeMail me if you want to know more.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2012

Response by poster: That's a very interesting point about the working with groups.

I think, based on what I've learned and am learning, though, that I'm more in favor of these programs at young ages. As an anecdote on the good-for-little-kids side, my niece spent a half a year at a montessori kindergarden, where every day she chose to bake biscuits. My brother thought this was crazy and was frustrated at the time, but now she's a fantastic young cook and loves it. I think it worked out great at that young age, but for older kids I'd think it would risk never learning to "do what you gotta do" (Then again, I can formulate counter arguments about continuing to experience passion and personal, unique challenges and successes and failures at older ages.)

Anyway, there are aspects specific to the Baltimore system that would mean I won't go this route unless I'm thinking we're likely to stick with it. (even possibly into the high school affiliated with the same group.) We wouldn't be able to just ask to go back to the elementary school we're in if it goes sour; the lotteries are really tricky.

PS. one other anecdote. My grad advisor's daughter went through a lot of years of Montessori. She could stresslessly punch out a 10 page paper of demand any time because they got so much writing practice, but she had odd gaps because they never had a "curriculum", e.g., whole sections of US history that they'd just never gotten around to because they were doing other things.
posted by spbmp at 8:10 PM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: There's a subtle but important difference between Montessori and Reggio. Both are driven by the kids, but where Montessori is individual child driven (each kid gets to pick what they want to do - so, biscuits), Reggio is driven by group consensus. The teachers mainly serve as facilitators - no small feat when the audience is a classroom full of 4 year olds, btw.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:49 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: She could stresslessly punch out a 10 page paper of demand any time because they got so much writing practice, but she had odd gaps because they never had a "curriculum", e.g., whole sections of US history that they'd just never gotten around to because they were doing other things.

I don't think this is uncommon with a lot of the alternative education models. As someone who went through one of those, however, let me point out that that punching out a 10 page paper on demand is a hugely valuable skill; knowing all your US presidents is a piece of information. You can pick up whatever information you need at any time and fill whatever gaps along the way; what you cannot pick up is rigor of intellect.

As an example of the inevitable gaps, I never really learned geography. I can only place US states on a map in vague groupings. On the other hand, I have never had any particular reason to know exactly where Utah is, still scored highly on my SATs, and was admitted to 22 colleges.

My education focused on giving me the skills to acquire, critique and filter all of the information I would ever need or like to acquire through my whole life, and I rate those skills really highly. I think of it as being very much the "teach a man to fish" model. If your son is self-motivated, a good alternative school may be an opportune learning environment for him, but like everyone is telling your, it depends entirely on the individual school.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:58 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If your kid is happy and doing well in his current school don't move him.
Children of highly-educated parents tend to do well in school regardless of the kind of school they attend.
posted by mareli at 3:36 AM on July 28, 2012

Response by poster: I really appreciate the comments so far, and I'm learning a lot on both sides of the coin. I still haven't gotten a handle on my core question, though: Are there studies of later-in-life outcomes?
posted by spbmp at 10:24 AM on July 28, 2012

I work for a nonprofit that provides early childhood education for low-income children. We utilize the Reggio Emilia method. I have never come across any studies about later-in-life outcomes, but I can tell you that 94% of our four year-olds graduate "ready for kindergarten" according to some nationwide assessment indicators. This number has improved over the years as we get better and better at Reggio.
posted by anotheraccount at 11:47 AM on July 28, 2012

Best answer: In a quick review of the educational literature, I didn't see any studies on long-term outcomes, though I did see a study from 2002 calling for such studies.

I used ERIC, which happily for you is government funded and thus though you can't access all of the articles listed, you can certainly look for yourself at the various abstracts looking at what ERIC calls the 'Reggio Emilia approach.' I definitely recommend that you take a look at ERIC if you're interested in getting a bit more info on Reggio Emilia; it had some full-text available overviews of the whole project that seemed worth reading.

As far as long-term outcomes, I have two suggestions if you want to do further research: 1) look at European educational sources (Reggio Emilia is of course Italian in origin and though ERIC indexes non-US material, it doesn't do so to the same extent. I took a quick spin on but I'm thinking you can find other sources as well from the EU) and 2) look for long-term outcomes for the broader category of alternative education/learner-centered education (so, Reggio Emilia but also Montessori and critical pedagogy and unschooling).
posted by librarylis at 9:35 PM on July 28, 2012

Best answer: I used to work for a Reggio Emilia research type place that documented children's learning and such in an effort to evaluate how the RE approach was helping and/or hindering children. It did not employ very rigorous methodology and its 'findings' were fairly dubious. As far as I know, there is no significant research on how the RE approach helps or hinders students in their later lives. This may be because it is not the old of a method, and is still not terribly popular.

However, there are copious studies that show how effective certain elements that are generally emphasized in the RE curriculum are in success in life, things that are not always present in traditional public schools, like the arts, collaboration, creative activities, inquiry based learning, etc. These are sort of going by the wayside in many, but not all, public schools, but are still pretty prevalent in RE schools. I agree that you really have to compare your specific public school with the RE school in question.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:23 PM on July 30, 2012

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