Is Montessori Education Effective?


Is Montessori Education Effective? 
If you are considering enrolling your child in Bluffview Montessori School, at some point you will probably have questions about the effectiveness of Montessori education. Does Montessori education prepare students to succeed in more traditional educational settings, such as high school and college? More importantly, does it prepare them for future employment—and for a rich, meaningful life?

Every child is different, so it is impossible to predict whether Montessori is right for your child. However, as a group, Montessori students generally do as well as or better than their non-Montessori peers on a variety of measures. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know.

Bluffview Montessori School students do well on traditional measures of academic skill.

Between 70-80 percent of the students who graduate from Bluffview Montessori School make the honor roll in their freshman year of high school. (We calculated that number by examining the high school honor rolls at two local high schools, Winona Senior High School and Cotter High School, over four years.) Bluffview Montessori students also typically do as well or better than other area schools on standardized tests such as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA-II). (Montessori educators, including those at Bluffview, do not place great value on grades or standardized tests, viewing them as an incomplete measure of learning. These results are provided mainly to show that Montessori students are well-prepared for a more conventional academic environment.)

A 2006 study published in the journal Science found that children enrolled in an inner-city public Montessori school had excellent outcomes compared to their non-Montessori peers.

The study compared children who were able to attend the school to those who applied to attend but lost the enrollment lottery conducted by the school district. This design allowed the researchers to minimize parental influence as a factor contributing to the outcomes. Students in the Montessori group and the control group came from families with similar average incomes, under $50,000. The study authors concluded:

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.

Critics of the study say that its sample size (112 students) is too small to make the results conclusive. You can read the complete study here.

A 2003 study found that Montessori students who transferred to traditional schools were academically successful.

The study looked at ACT test scores and grade point averages (GPA) for 201 children who had attended public Montessori magnet schools through the fifth grade, and compared them to a similar group of children who had attended conventional schools. “In essence, attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to eleven predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school,” the researcher wrote. The Montessori students performed about as well as the control group on the English and social studies dimensions of the standardized tests. (All the study participants had higher standardized test scores than the average for the school district.) In addition, the average grade point average (GPA) for the Montessori students was 2.72, compared to 2.59 for the control group.

Many entrepreneurs and business leaders view Montessori education as providing valuable skills.

“The Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite,” according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, creative leaders “are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia….” The Wall Street Journal isn't alone in this view:

  • A six-year study of 3,000 business executives found that the most innovative ones were best able to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, ask questions that lead to deeper insights, observe details, experiment, and collaborate with others—skills that are emphasized in Montessori education. “A number of the innovative entrepreneurs went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity,” says one of the study’s authors in the Harvard Business Review.

  • Andrew McAfee, author of Enterprise 2.0, writes: “Research indicates that Montessori methods work even for disadvantaged kids who are randomly selected to attend….. And as far as I can tell from my quick glance at the studies, Montessori kids don’t do worse than their more classically educated peers on standardized tests. So why do we spend so much time on rote learning and teaching to the test? … Until [the research] convinces me otherwise, I'm going to continue to believe in Montessori and recommend it to parents.”

  • Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin have repeatedly credited their success to their early childhood Montessori education. “I do think I benefited from Montessori education, which in a lot of ways gives students a lot more freedom to do things at their own pace, to discover,” Brin says.

Montessori has been a good educational choice for children who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Montessori education is sometimes portrayed as a trendy or “boutique” educational choice for children who grow up in privileged families. Not so. Montessori education got its start more than a century ago with children who were mentally disabled and economically disadvantaged, and it has continued to be successful with such populations today. “Montessori schools have become popular with some black professionals and are getting results in low-income public schools with the kind of children on which Montessori first tested her ideas,” noted a recent article in the Washington Post. Others agree:

  • “Prospects for educational achievement are brightest for Milwaukee Public School students who are enrolled in Montessori Schools,” wrote the Milwaukee NAACP in a July 2011 report.
  • “In a neighborhood where less than half of entering freshmen graduate from high school, 95% of EDCS graduates earn their diplomas, with 89% of those graduates attending college,” according to East Dallas Community Schools, a non-profit organization that runs several Montessori schools.
  • “I agree that the Montessori Method could have many positive implications for the education of children who grow up in economically disadvantaged families and undeserved communities,” says Anne Williams-Isom, the COO of Harlem Children’s Zone, which was featured in the movie Waiting for Superman. “There are also countless benefits to having a calm and peaceful environment [that Montessori provides] – especially for children who live in stressful situations. For those children who may to be growing up in chaotic circumstances, calm and order can actually have a profound and healing effect.”

    Montessori education may not be the right choice for every child. And other schools in the Winona area, public and private, also provide excellent educational opportunities.

    But families who prefer the holistic approach of Montessori education—one that approaches each child as an individual, and nurtures his or her creativity and self-confidence—should have no reason to worry that their child will be at a disadvantage once they move on from Bluffview Montessori School. In fact, the available evidence suggests that Montessori educated children not only get by, but thrive.