Equality in Public Montessori Education

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The Montessori method of instruction is an educational innovation that has been highly praised since its conception over 100 years ago by Dr. Maria Montessori (“History of Montessori Education and the Movement”).  The method promotes student independence through peer learning in mixed age classes, freedom in choosing what activity to work on, and long periods of uninterrupted time to work in the classroom (“Introduction to the Montessori Method”).  Dr. Montessori’s first school, Casa dei Bambini, was opened in a low income neighborhood in Rome, and as the method has spread to every continent excluding Antarctica, it has continued to be employed as a means through which to advance diversity between different types of learners, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds (“History of Montessori Education and the Movement”).  The Montessori method was introduced to the United States shortly after its’ founding in the early 1900’s, however it didn’t obtain lasting popularity until a revival in 1960, led by early childhood expert Dr. Nancy Rambusch (Pace)(“History of Montessori Education and the Movement”). By the 1970’s the Montessori method was hailed as an educational innovation with the potential to provide an alternative to students who did not function optimally in a traditional classroom setting (Stevens) and experienced growing popularity with middle class suburban families (Whitescarver, Cossentino 2584).  This growth lead it to became part of the “War on Poverty” movement, and was seen as a constructive way to promote desegregation in urban schools through utilization as a magnet option (“Growth of Public Montessori in the United States:19745-2014”).  With the creation of charter schools in the 1990’s the method continued to grow in popularity as an alternative to traditional schools, and in the past fifteen years, an estimated 290 public Montessori schools have opened (“Growth of Public Montessori in the United States:19745-2014”).  In light of the method’s growth in the public sector, and its perceived potential to address issues of educational inequality, how successful has public Montessori been in addressing issues of educational inequality over the course of recent decades?

American Montessori Society. “Montessori: Valuing Diversity with Andrew Solomon.” Online Video clip.  Vimeo. Vimeo, 29 July 2014. Web. 20 April 2016.

Dr. Maria Montessori developed her method to reach underserved children by putting focus on the individual and value on the differences between students. The Montessori method embraces differences between students, be they race, socioeconomic status, ability, or other (“Montessori Success in Minority Communities“).  The objective of this method, along with its focus on building executive functions, makes it a promising reform for combating issues of equality in America’s schools, at least in theory.  Research into the effectiveness of public Montessori school’s ability to remedy educational inequalities is new, but researchers have observed both strengths and weaknesses in how well the method has worked to serve minority and low income students.  Although there is a possibility for the Montessori method to be successful in addressing issues of educational inequality, there are problems with the application of the method in the public sector which continue to obstruct this potential.  Among these problems are the availability of Montessori options to minority and low income students and persistent issues with the treatment of minority students and families in public Montessori classrooms and communities.   

The East Dallas Community Schools (EDCS) manages two Montessori charter schools that serve higher numbers of low income and English language learner students than the rest of the state.  In an area where the graduation of the local public high school is 50%, of the third grade alumni of EDCS 94% graduate high school, and 88% go on to college on average (East Dallas Community Schools Newsletters).  However, not all public Montessori options offer this same high quality experience to underserved students.  Public Montessori schools, particularly charters, are becoming less available to minority students, resulting in a vital way in which Montessori schools are not as effective as they could be in addressing issues of educational inequality.  About 6% of of public schools in the United States are charter schools, while 41% of public Montessori schools are charters (“The challenge of a desirable school choice” 31). Montessori charters have been increasingly popular in recent years, and are now even slightly exceeding magnet options (“The challenge of a desirable school choice” 31-32).  These Montessori Charters are often less racially and economically diverse than district and magnet school, and over 60% of these charters enroll less than 40% minority students and have less than 40% of their students eligible for free and reduced price lunch, which is an important indicator of the number of students living in poverty (“The challenge of a desirable school choice” 32-33).  

“As a group, Montessori charter schools enroll a higher percentage of white students and a smaller number of black, Latino, Asian and free- and reduced-lunch-eligible students than Montessori magnet and district schools,” writes education researcher Mira Debs in her forthcoming article The challenge of a desirable school choice: Public Montessori between Social Reform and Elite Schooling (32).  Debs calls upon Kevin G. Welner’s “dirty dozen” concept to explain the inequitable techniques employed by charter schools that are making a growing number of public Montessori options less available to minority and low income students (“The challenge of a desirable school choice” 34).  Lack of English as a second language materials, not offering programs like free busing and or school lunches, are all ways that charters can keep themselves from being more available to minority and low income students, however there are also techniques that are unique to charter Montessori schools.  Because of pedological differences between Montessori and traditional classroom methods, many Montessori schools require that students have prior experience with the method before elementary school, and do not allow students to enter the school after a certain grade.  If there are no free public Montessori preschool options available to families, this can bar them from accessing or being eligible for public Montessori later on (“The challenge of a desirable school choice” 35).

This was the case in Des Moines, Iowa at Cowles Montessori, which is the only public Montessori school in the state.  Crowles Montessori enrolls students through a preschool program requiring $167.50 a week in tuition which is double the cost of other public preschool programs in the area.  The result has been a 49% decrease in the number of low income students and a 29% decrease in the number of minority students attending Crowles Montessori compared to the district (“The challenge of a desirable school choice” 22).

Katie E. Brown’s article Racial Diversity, Segregation, and Montessori Charter Schools built off of some of the work of Mira Debs, and sought to examine how representative public Montessori schools were of the district’s population.  Brown’s research provides further evidence that Montessori charters, which educate 37,926 students, are often racially segregated and predominantly white (2) (11).  Only 53 of the 166 Montessori charter schools had populations that were representative of the districts they were serving, whereas the remaining 113 schools (68.07%) had at least one racial group that was over or under represented. In 76 (45.78% ) of the Montessori charter schools in the study, white students were the population to be overrepresented (Brown 13).  

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“Percentage of Montessori Charter Schools Exhibiting Differences in School Population verses District Population by Race.” (K. Brown 13)

Outside of the issues associated with segregation in Montessori charters, there are also problems with the treatment of students within public Montessori schools, as well as with the ability of low income and minority parents to adjust into Montessori communities.  These practices leave families disenfranchised from the schools, despite the demonstrated potential for the Montessori method to be a positive innovation for many minority and low income students.  Brown and Steele found that rates of disproportionate discipline for minority students in public Montessori schools were statistically significant, like they are in traditional schools (1).  Black students in Montessori programs were two to three times more likely to receive out of school suspension than white students, which comparable to the rates in other schools (Brown, Steele 22).  

However, the researchers did find that within the district that they were conducting their study racial discipline disproportionality was less striking when compared to the traditional schools of the district (Brown, Steele 22).  This finding prompted Brown and Steele to conclude that although disproportionate discipline of minority students persisted in public Montessori schools, there is evidence that Montessori could potentially be a remedy to unequal treatment of minority students, “Montessori schools are not immune to racially disproportionate discipline and should work to incorporate more culturally responsive classroom management techniques. Conversely, the lower levels of racially disproportionate discipline in the Montessori schools suggest that further study of discipline and classroom management in Montessori environments may provide lessons for traditional schools to promote equitable discipline” (Brown, Steele 1).

Education researchers Elizabeth Brown and Molly Makris explore in their article Too Many White Ping Pong Balls: The Difficulty of Diversity Maintenance in Prestige Charter Schools,  the growing number of public Montessori schools that fit the description of being a “prestige charter” (E. Brown, Makis 7) which in many ways serves white and high income families better than minority, and low income families.  The alternative teaching method, which made Montessori an appealing option for middle class families in some ways makes it less desirable to minority and low income parents.  In her article Conflicted fit: Black and Latino parents’ experience in public Montessori schools, Mira Debs found that the experiences of minority and low income parents made understanding the abstract principles of the Montessori method difficult for them.  Montessori actives like gardening can be difficult for Black and Latino parents to accept. “I can’t figure out all this motherly, green thumb, nature-loving hippie part of the program,” one Latino parent interviewed in Debs article said, “I’m trying to prepare [my daughter] for modern-day stuff like technology and computers and all these advances in medicine – and they’re planting peas…She can rake, and she can trim bushes, but real-world practical use?” (“Conflicted fit” 18-19).  Some Black and Latino parents also held issue with the lack of homework in their children’s Montessori schools, which Debs acknowledges is the case of many parents in Montessori (“Conflicted fit” 19).  However, Debs argues that the concerns of minority parents for academic rigor were strengthened by their experiences with “limited educational opportunities” and “their awareness of the discrimination and dangers their children of color might face in the future” (“Conflicted Fit” 19).  Debs calls this “conflicted fit,” where parents were fond of the caring Montessori community but still apprehensive about the abstractness of the mission and the perceived lack of attention paid to academic achievement (“Conflicted fit” 14).   Debs found that parents who faced conflicted fit in the Montessori schools where their students attended were disenfranchised from the communities and more likely to consider enrolling their child in a different school (“Conflicted fit” 21).

One concern is that some minority families are disenfranchised from schools with high levels of parent involvement, resulting in “parentocracy” where the “the individual needs and preferences of some privileged parents may dominate and supersede the needs and interests of the collective good” (E. Brown, Makris 9).  Debs states that Montessori schools and educators need to become more culturally sensitive and understanding of the different perceptions and background of parents in order for minority parents to feel equally empowered in the school communities (“Conflicted fit” 23).  

 Following her participation in the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in the Fall of 2015, Katie Brown, co-author of Racial Discipline Disproportionality in Montessori and Traditional Public Schools: A Comparative Study Using the Relative Rate Index, shared her impression that the current dialogue about public Montessori expansion was is not adequately addressing greater outreach to underserved populations, I was struck by the lack of discussion of equity and inclusion. When I looked around the room, I noticed that the group was sorely lacking in representation from Montessorians of color…very little was said about increasing access for students of color and low-income students specifically, and how we ensure that high-quality Montessori best fits their educational needs…I brought up the question of how to diversify the Montessori teacher pool, but my impression is that if I had not, the issue of racial diversity may have gone unaddressed in this session” (“Advancing Montessori Public Policy, Expanding Access and Equity”).  

Public Montessori options have grown in recent decades.  This expansion of an educational innovation which was formerly a largely private school option, should give low income and minority students greater access to a method that is believed to have far reaching benefits, “including better scores on reading and math standardized tests, more positive interaction on the playground, more advanced social cognition and executive control, and more concern for fairness and justice” (Murray).   However, current public Montessori practices are imperfect and do not address problems of educational inequality in America’s schools.  In fact, the growing segregation of Montessori charters suggests that the method’s growth in the public sector could be contributing to the backtrack of desegregation in America’s schools.  Angela K. Murray of the American Montessori Society advocates for an expansion of public Montessori options so that. “skills that have been the province of the few must become universal” (Murray).  The noble goal of Dr. Nancy Rambusch for “the creation of a viable American Montessori educational experience for as many children as possible,” (Whitescaver, Cossentino 2582)  may very well have the potential to remedy many of the issues of educational inequality obstructing our schools today.  However, first the obstacles facing the method in light of the expansion of Montessori into the public sector must be understood and addressed.  

 Work Cited 

American Montessori Society. “Montessori: Valuing Diversity with Andrew Solomon.” Online Video clip.  Vimeo. Vimeo, 29 July 2014. Web. 20 April 2016.

Brown, Katie. 2016. “Racial Diversity, Segregation, and Montessori Charter Schools.” Paper presented at the American Education Research Association, April 12, Washington DC.  

Brown, Katie E., and Aimy SL Steele. “Racial Discipline Disproportionality in Montessori and Traditional Public Schools: A Comparative Study Using the Relative Rate Index.” Journal of Montessori Research 1.1 (2015).

Brown, Katie. “Advancing Montessori Public Policy, Expanding Access and Equity.” Montessori for Social Justice. 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 6 May 2016. http://montessoriforsocialjustice.org.

Debs, Mira. “Conflicted fit: Black and Latino parents’ experience in public Montessori schools.” American Education Research Association Annual Conference. Washington D.C. 11 April 2016.

Debs, Mira. “The challenge of a desirable choice: Public Montessori between Social Reform and Elite Schooling.” Yale University Unpublished Paper. 2016.

East Dallas Community Schools Newsletters.  National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. 2009-2010. Web. 3 May 2016.  http://www.public-montessori.org/sites/default/files/resources/EDCS%20Outcomes%20Charts%20and%20Graphs.pdf. 

“Growth of Public Montessori in the United States:19745-2014.”  National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.  Web. 20 April 2016http://www.public-montessori.org/growth-Public-montessori-united-states-1975-2014. 

“History of Montessori Education and the Movement.”  American Montessori Society,. 2016. Web. 20 April 2016http://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/History-of-Montessori-Education

“Introduction to Montessori Method.”  American Montessori Society.  2016. Web. 20 April 2016. http://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori                                  

“Montessori Success in Minority Communities.” Golden Oaks Montessori. Web. 3 May 2016. http://www.goldenoakmontessori.org/Info/PDFMasters/Success_In_Minority_Communities.pdf.  

Murray, Angela K. “Expanding Access to Montessori Education: An Opportunity for Disadvantaged Students.” CUNY Institute for Education Policy.  24 February 2015. Web. 3 May 2016. http://ciep.hunter.cuny.edu/expanding-access-to-montessori-education-an-opportunity-for-disadvantaged-students/.  

Pace, Eric. “Nancy Rambusch, 67, Educator Who Backed Montessori Schools.” The New York Times. 30 Oct. 1994. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/30/us/nancy-rambusch-67-educator-who-backed-montessori-schools.html

Stevens, William K. “Parents Unhappy With Publci Schools Find Alternative in Informal Classes.” New York Times. 21 June 1970. Web. 8 April 2016. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E0CE2D91339E336A05752C2A9609C946190D6CF

Whitescarver, Keith, and Jacqueline Cossentino. “Montessori and the mainstream: A century of reform on the margins.” The Teachers College Record 110.12 (2008): 2571-2600. Web. 8 April 2016.  http://www.montessoriconsulting.org/publications/montessori_and_the_mainstream.pdf 





Waiting for Superman Analysis

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Waiting for Superman is moving to say the least. Despite the criticisms of some education policy reformers like Kevin G. Welner and Richard D. Kahlenberg, director Davis Guggenheim engages the viewer with the personal experiences of charismatic driven students and their struggling parents, who go to great lengths to try and give their children the best education they can. Perhaps the most moving storylines is that of Anthony, a student in Washington DC. Anthony is raised by his grandmother after losing his father to drug addiction (Guggenheim 0:5:00). As an applicant for the lottery into The Seed School, the first urban public boarding school and another option other than his low performing district school, Anthony is asked by the interviewers why he wants to get into the school. Despite his young age Anthony poignantly responds, “I want to go to college and get an education… because if I have kids I don’t want kids to be in this environment…I want my kids to have better than what I had.” (Guggenheim 1:21:45).

For a young person to already have the awareness that education has the power to change his life and future in such a big way is touching. However, when you contrast it against the tremendous hurdles Anthony will face in obtaining the quality education he desires it becomes heartbreaking. The most powerful scene in the movie builds off of this interview, and shows when Anthony is ultimately admitted into the boarding school and hangs a picture of his father next to his bed (Guggenheim 1:45:25). In this scene Guggenheim suggests to viewers that this educational opportunity will be what separates Anthony from his father, and that it will give Anthony the opportunity to be the type of father he spoke of wanting to be.

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(Guggenheim 1:42:50)

Despite the emotional power of the film, Waiting for Superman, does have its share of critics. One critique comes from education reformer Kevin G. Welner, and author of The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment. In a post published on a Washington Post blog, Mr. Welner describes what he views as the shortcomings of the film. Welner alleges that the film does not expose the economic problems affecting the communities of many of the students and families featured in the documentary, and especially the issue of wealth distribution, which he says the film Inside Job does a much better job of  describing. Mr. Welner argues that Guggenheim should have, “explored these issues instead of bashing unions and promoting charters” (Welner). He also states that had the film explained the persisting economic problems present for families like Anthony’s, viewers would have a better understanding of the full scope of persisting inequality, “moviegoers might have walked away understanding a great deal about why the families it profiled and so many similar families across America face a bleak educational future” (Welner). Welner, who in his own work is critical of the practices employed by some charter schools, believes that Waiting for Superman does not show the “structural inequality” experienced by many of the families in the film, and further more that the charter schools championed by the film are not the solution to this problem because they promote deregulation and privatization (Welner).

Richard D. Kahlenberg, coauthor of Smarter Charter is also critical of the movie, especially for its harsh depiction of teachers unions and collective bargaining. Mr. Kahlenberg argues that the film’s vilification of the union as being opposed to the interests of students, “While many divide the world between teachers’ unions and reformers, the truth is that unions have long advocated a number of genuine reforms—inside and outside the classroom—that can have a sustained impact on reducing the achievement gap” (Kahlenberg 17). Kahlenberg joins Welner in saying that issues of poverty cannot be overlooked when determining solutions to educational problems (Kahlenberg 17).


Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.

Kahlenberg, Richard D. “Bipartisan, but Unfounded: The Assault on Teachers’ Unions.” American Educator 35.4 (2012): 14-18.             http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Kahlenberg_0.pdf.

Welner, Kevin G. “Why ‘Inside Job’ bests ‘Waiting for Superman’ on school reform.” The    Answer Sheet. Valerie Strauss. The Washington Post, 16 June 2011. Web. 14 April 2016.   http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/school-         turnaroundsreform/why-waiting-for-superman-shoul.html.



Compensation for Connecticut’s Early Childhood Educators

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Me in front of the meeting room in the LOB
Me in front of the meeting room in the LOB
The calm before the storm- the meeting was very well attended.
The calm before the storm– the meeting ended up being very well attended.

The Education Committee Hearing held on Monday March 7, 2016 featured many interesting and engaging testimonies on a variety of pressing issues facing the Education Committee in Connecticut. The hearing was newsworthy on many accounts, including discussions about special education and the controversial S.B. No. 380 Act, which would allow for teacher evaluations to be completed without factoring in student performance on exams.

Among the significant Committee bills present on Monday’s full agenda was House Bill No. 5557, an act about the recruitment and retention of early childhood educators. The purpose of the bill is “To establish an early childhood educator compensation schedule for early childhood educators that ensures the retention and recruitment of qualified educators, secures a standard of living that meets such educators’ needs, and reflects the true costs associated with quality standards for early childhood care and education programs.” The bill obliges The Office of Early Childhood to present a new plan for increased compensation as the state moves towards requiring more highly educated teachers in the coming years.

Section 10-16p of H.B.No.5557 necessitates that by 2017, 50% of “designated qualified staff members” (DQSMs), other wise known as lead teachers, have their bachelor’s degree and that by 2020, 100% of DQSMs have a bachelors degree.
Commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, Myra Jones-Taylor, testified on behalf of her department and described some of the scholarship opportunities they are able to offer early childhood educators in obtaining higher degrees. In 2015 the Office of Early Childhood was able to allocate $968,800 towards helping roughly 250 educators with degree attainment. In the Office of Early Childhood’s Plan to Assist Early Education State Funded Providers to Degree Attainment and Increased Compensation, they cite evidence of the positive impacts that employing well educated teachers has on early learning through encouraging more literacy, developing better student-teacher interactions, and more appropriate instruction.

However, Ms. Taylor acknowledges that without increased compensation, scholarships alone will not be enough to retain early childhood educators. Vice Chairman Robert Sanchez, who cited the consistently low wages received by early educators, and called on the Office of Early Development to make meaningful changes, aggressively pursued this point. The average early childhood care worker receives on average only $10.44 per hour, which is less than half of what a female elementary school teacher can expect to earn.
While Commissioner Jones-Taylor agreed with Representative Sanchez’s critique of the current situation, she did call attention to the paradox that increased compensation creates for early childhood education, explaining that without an increase in their budget the Office of Early Childhood is forced to decide between increasing wages of educators, but limiting the number of children the Office can serve, or keeping wages stagnant and continuing to serve more children. “I do have serious concerns about the fiscal impact of this legislation,” said Taylor in her testimony, “To ensure providers have the ability to pay these higher required wages, the OEC would have to raise the per-child rate to providers. With no additional new funds expected in this fiscal climate, the OEC would serve fewer children.”

When questioned by Representative Sanchez about “unspent funds” that can be tapped into, Ms. Taylor responded that legislation passed in 2015 now allows for up to $1 million of unspent School Readiness funds to be used for scholarships. However, Jones-Taylor warned against using these funds to adjust the pay structure, in her response to Representative Sanchez, because the numbers fluctuate year to year.

Nonetheless, Jones-Taylor and the Office of Early Childhood demonstrated their commitment to finding a solution to the problem of increasing compensation and retention among early childhood educators. The Office of Early Childhood is launching a Cost of Quality Study to better analyze the costs and benefits associated with excellent early education while also addressing better wages for the educational actors. “The OEC believes the best course of action is to review the results of the Cost of Quality Study before placing a new mandate on providers we cannot afford in this new economic reality,” concluded Ms. Jones-Taylor, “We will continue to develop strategies to ensure we have a robust pipeline of talent into the field and incentives to retain them.”

Jennifer’s Learning Goals

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I am very excited to be enrolled in Education Reform Past and Present!  As a Public Policy and Law student with a concentration in education policy, this is the perfect course for me.  This semester, I hope to learn about the education reforms of the past that have resulted in our current school system.  Taking that a step further, I hope to learn more about what reforms we need to consider for the future.  I believe education is one of the most important things a society can supply to its citizens, and I hope that this course will help me understand the the most important steps we need to take to better educate America’s children.

Trinity College, Hartford CT Source, Britannia.com
Trinity College, Hartford CT Source, Britannia.com