Montessori Works

From the latest edition of Science. It's worth noting in advance that, if one were to design an educational system that were the exact opposite of No Child Left Behind, it would look a lot like Montessori's approach:

Montessori education is a 100-year-old method of schooling that was first used with impoverished preschool children in Rome. The program continues to grow in popularity. Estimates indicate that more than 5000 schools in the United States--including 300 public schools and some high schools--use the Montessori program. Montessori education is characterized by multi-age classrooms, a special set of educational materials, student-chosen work in long time blocks, collaboration, the absence of grades and tests, and individual and small group instruction in both academic and social skills. The effectiveness of some of these elements is supported by research on human learning.

We evaluated the social and academic impact of Montessori education. Children were studied near the end of the two most widely implemented levels of Montessori education: primary (3- to 6-year-olds) and elementary (6- to 12-year-olds).

What did they find? Well, here are their results for 5 year olds:
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And here is their summary:

On several dimensions, children at a public inner city Montessori school had superior outcomes relative to a sample of Montessori applicants who, because of a random lottery, attended other schools. By the end of kindergarten, the Montessori children performed better on standardized tests of reading and math, engaged in more positive interaction on the playground, and showed more advanced social cognition and executive control. They also showed more concern for fairness and justice. At the end of elementary school, Montessori children wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school.

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What do you mean by "an educational system that were the exact opposite of No Child Left Behind"? From what I know about the act (Text available here), a public school run along the lines of a Montessori school would be perfectly fine.

By Ken Hirsch (not verified) on 03 Oct 2006 #permalink

Montessori pedagogy is marked by two distinguishing characteristics, both of which are discouraged by NCLB: it doesn't give out grades or quantitative tests, and devotes extensive amounts of classroom time to "non-essential" academic and social subjects. My point was that NCLB too often forces teachers and districts to get rid of the very programs that are effective, so that they can devote more time to standardized test preparation. For an example of this process in action, see my recent Seed article, entitled "How We Know".

The better way to put it is that state education boards' implementation of NCLB requires all of that.

NCLB by itself requires nothing of the sort (although it does require a validated assessment annually -- not neccissarily in the form of standardized bubble sheets).

I think Dan R. is more on the mark when he says state education boards' implementation requires things that the NCLB doesn't.

When I get time, I'll take a look at the Science article. It would be a lot more interesting if the teachers had been assigned randomly, too. Studies of student achievement generally show teacher-quality effect as much more important than school-level variables--and of course both are less important than family/individual differences. I would expect the Montessori school had better teachers.

I have read your Seed article. It was interesting, but the absolutism on practice v. talent seemed rather extreme. Although the algebra curriculum sounds good, there is a long history of curricula which have impressive results in one place but can never be replicated elsewhere. Probably this is because the initial success was mostly the result of the skill and passion of the people involved.

By Ken Hirsch (not verified) on 03 Oct 2006 #permalink

Thanks for your comments, Ken. You make excellent points. I think one of the most daunting aspects of studying education is the sheer number of confounding variables. It's not easy to measure the passion of teachers, or to know how that relates to the success of the program. (It's clear that some programs are simply better at fostering passionate teachers, for example.)
And as for the recent rise in standardized testing and stripped down curricula, I'd be less willing to blame NCLB if its implementation wasn't so uniform. The fact is, virtually all school districts have responded to the new federal guidlines in similar ways, almost all of which seem to contradict the pedagogy used by Montessori schools.

Well, I believe consequences in NCLB are directly tied to test scores. Teachers must teach the state and federal standards to get those test scores. This does seem to go against the Montessori "students lead the way" philosophy.

Besides, whether its NCLB or the state's response to NCLB, it doesn't really matter. I think we can all agree that having to spend time teaching kids how to bubble in scantrons and memorize random factoids isn't how education should be.

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By nilakshi senanayake (not verified) on 27 Oct 2008 #permalink

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By nilakshi senanayake (not verified) on 27 Oct 2008 #permalink