ERIC Identifier: ED348165
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Chattin-McNichols, John
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Montessori Programs in Public Schools. ERIC Digest.
Maria Montessori founded the first Montessori school in Rome in 1907. It
served 4- to 7-year-olds from low-income families in a full-day program.
Montessori schools grew in number in Europe and India, and there was a great
deal of U.S. interest in Montessori's methods from 1910 to 1920. After this
time, Montessori methods were all but forgotten in the U.S. until the late
1950s. Then, a second Montessori movement began in the U.S., with a set of
private schools serving an almost entirely middle-class population. A teacher
shortage resulted in the opening of private Montessori teacher training centers
that were typically free-standing, that is, not associated with a college or
university. In the late 1960s, parents in several school districts began to
agitate for public schools to offer the Montessori model for their elementary
school children who had graduated from private Montessori preschools. This push
was given a boost by the availability of federal funds for magnet programs.
Today, more than 100 U.S. school districts have some type of Montessori program
From the beginning, the name "Montessori" has been in the public domain in
the U.S. As a consequence, both schools and teacher education programs have
proliferated without regulations or restrictions. Fortunately, many Montessori
teacher education courses have some community college, college, or university
affiliation, and some offer Master of Education degrees with the Montessori
Some elementary schools have used the name "Montessori" to refer to programs
that have little relation to the schools Montessori described. Many people rely
on a school's affiliation with the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI)
or the American Montessori Society (AMS) to determine whether the school's
program actually uses Montessori methods. But the majority of the public schools
have not chosen to affiliate with either organization, usually citing financial
CHARACTERISTICS OF ELEMENTARY MONTESSORI CLASSES
classes are made up of children in a three-year age range: preschools have 3-
and 4-year-olds and kindergartners; elementary classes have first, second, and
third graders, and so on.
Montessori materials are designed for use by individual students or small
groups, rather than as teacher presentation aids. In math, materials represent
math concepts, such as fractions and decimals. In geography, students work with
puzzle maps, in which each continent has been made into a puzzle, the pieces of
which are countries.
The most important criterion for an elementary Montessori class is student
activity. For 3-4 hours a day, students engage in individual and small group
work of their choice. These choices are, of course, guided by the teacher.
Students also receive instruction individually or in small groups. Classes that
spend over an hour a day in whole group instruction are departing from the
Another important aspect of Montessori classes is an attitude of cooperation
rather than competition. It is common for students to ask other students for
help. In keeping with a reduced emphasis on conventional testing, answers to
problems are made available to students. Although public Montessori schools
comply with requirements for achievement tests, many Montessorians see these
tests as being irrelevant to much of what students learn.
Finally, the development of individual responsibility is emphasized. The
children maintain the classroom and materials, and participate in developing
MONTESSORI PROGRAMS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
A survey conducted by
the author in 1981 collected data from 25 of the approximately 50 school
districts known to have Montessori programs at the time (Chattin-McNichols,
1981). The only other study of public Montessori programs is much more recent.
During school year 1990-91, this study received responses from 63 of the 120
school districts or schools to whom surveys were sent (Michlesen and Cummings,
1991). Results from this study indicate that the number of students in the
schools or school districts averaged 233, with an average of 10 teachers per
program. A total of 32, or 58%, of the schools surveyed reported that they were
magnet schools. A total of 69% of the Montessori programs shared a building with
other programs. District funding for the training of Montessori teachers was
provided in 66% of the districts. Only 42% of the programs provided the
three-year age span of three-, four-, and five-year-olds. This is indicative of
the fact that the degree to which particular districts implement the Montessori
A total of 16 of the 57 schools charged tuition for some part of the program.
About two thirds of the programs provided free transportation. In addition, two
thirds of the districts reported that additional staff were used in the
Montessori magnet schools. These factors can add to the overall costs of the
One problem relating to public schools'
implementation of Montessori programs is admission criteria. Should children be
admitted to elementary Montessori classes based on whether they have had
Montessori preschool experience? Montessori classes work very differently
depending on the percentage of children with Montessori experience. Some
children without Montessori preschool experience adapt easily to expectations in
the Montessori elementary class and some do not. When children who cannot work
independently are in the minority, the teacher can focus attention, use older
children as tutors, and so on. When this group makes up the majority of the
class, Montessori practices involving free choice for major portions of the day
are hard to implement, at least early in the school year.
But public school programs' restriction of enrollment to those whose families
were able to afford private Montessori preschool poses an equity problem.
District-sponsored or reduced-tuition preschool classes solve the problem, but
such classes are not part of all public Montessori programs. School districts
use many admission criteria; it's not clear that any of them are entirely
satisfactory. In 1991, admissions processes were divided almost evenly between
lottery, first come-first served, and other processes, such as geographic
location and screening. About two thirds of the districts in the 1991 survey
gave enrollment priority to a student if a sibling was already enrolled.
SCARCITY OF TEACHERS
The biggest problem in starting and
maintaining a public school Montessori program may be the lack of qualified
Montessori elementary teachers. Teachers in public programs must have both state
teacher certification and Montessori elementary school teacher training. This
means that a state-certified teacher takes a year, or at least a summer, to
study Montessori, or that a Montessori elementary teacher takes a year off to go
to a university to become a state-certified teacher. In either case, the teacher
pays twice, and sits through at least some content a second time. Thus, even
with higher salaries and more benefits than private schools, it is often
difficult for public school programs to fill positions. As a result, some
teachers work in Montessori programs without the combination of elementary
Montessori certification and state credentials.
MONTESSORI: A POPULAR AND SUCCESSFUL ALTERNATIVE
of these difficulties with implementation, research indicates that Montessori is
a popular alternative to traditional public school education and is successful
in terms of achievement. Many successful magnet programs in the public schools
have been able to integrate state education requirements and Montessori
requirements. By and large, Montessori programs are successful magnets in
attracting and educating students, as shown by achievement test data (Duax,
FOR MORE INFORMATION
One source of up-to-date information
on public school Montessori programs is the "Montessori Public School Handbook
1991," which comes from a new resource group called the Montessori Public
Schools Consortium. It can be reached at the NAMTA address given below. A second
source is the "Public School Montessorian" newsletter, which is published by
Jola Publications, Box 8354, Minneapolis, MN 55408.
Chattin-McNichols, J. "The Effects of Montessori
School Experience." "Young Children" 36 (1981): 49-66. EJ 247 638.
Chattin-McNichols, J. "The Montessori Controversy." Albany, NY: Delmar, 1992.
Duax, T. "Preliminary Report on the Educational Effectiveness of a Montessori
School in the Public Sector." "North American Montessori Teachers' Quarterly" 14
Kahn, D. "Montessori Public School Handbook 1991." Available from The
Consortium, 2859 Scarborough Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.
Michlesen, P., and Cummings, L. "Survey Results: Public Montessori School
Survey, 1990-1991." Distributed by the Rockford Public Montessori School parents
group. Contact: Julie Lanthrop School, Rockford School District, 2603 Clover
Ave., Rockford, IL 61102.
American Montessori Society, 150 5th Ave, New York, NY 10011.
Association Montessori Internationale, Koninginnewe 161, 0175 CN, Amsterdam,
NAMTA, 11424 Bellflower Rd. NE, Cleveland, OH 44106.
References with an EJ (ERIC journal) number are available through the
originating journal, interlibrary loan services, or article reproduction
clearinghouses: UMI (800) 732-0616; or ISI (800) 523-1850.