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 (Kahn, 1991).
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 Program.
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 restrictions.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ELEMENTARY MONTESSORI CLASSES
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 Montessori model.
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 class rules.
MONTESSORI PROGRAMS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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 program.
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
MONTESSORI: A POPULAR AND SUCCESSFUL ALTERNATIVE
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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 (1989): 55-62.
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, The Netherlands.
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.