Investigating the Potential of the Montessori Approach to Help Close the Opportunity and Achievement Gaps
The Montessori method is a whole-child approach that focuses on developing the intellectual, moral, emotional and behavioral skills of children. While research suggests that high-fidelity Montessori education promotes positive outcomes for children, more research is needed that uses rigorous designs with larger sample sizes to investigate if Montessori education is equally effective across cultural groups and if it moderates the effects of lower family income on children’s outcomes. For example, the recent study of public Montessori in Hartford, Connecticut was rigorous but small, with only 2 school sites and not enough ethnic variability to conduct subgroup analyses concerning cultural background. The recent study of public Montessori programs in South Carolina was large enough to compare ethnic/racial subgroups but was not a randomized controlled trial.
The Brady Education Foundation (BEF) is funding an initiative that aims to investigate the impact of Primary Montessori Education (PreK-K) in the public sector, specifically focusing on if the approach is equally effective across cultural groups and whether it moderates the effects of family income on children’s academic achievement, executive functioning, and social outcomes.
Research teams at Child Trends and The Riley Institute at Furman University are collecting the data for the multi-site study, and a team based at the University of Kansas Center for Montessori Research is responsible for coordinating the initiative. The study capitalizes on school lotteries that will randomize the sample of children at the age of 3 and then follows them over 3 years through Kindergarten. Participants will be drawn from sites across the US, and results of the study are expected to be made public by the end of 2023.
In addition, as part of this initiative, BEF is funding 2 smaller grants for measurement development (please see press release here). One of these grants has been awarded to the team at University of Kansas Center for Montessori Research to support the continued development of a classroom observation instrument that will assess the implementation of Montessori practices, thus allowing researchers to account for variability in Montessori environments in their analysis. The second has been awarded to a team at Boston University to support the continued development of the ACSES-Snapshot (Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale), a classroom observation instrument that provides information regarding whether children of color are treated equitably and whether their cultural knowledge and social background are being leveraged and incorporated in classroom instruction, with focus on refining and validating the measure for use in Montessori classrooms.
Much of the current push to expand public pre-K is driven by the goal of increasing access to early learning environments that set the foundation for life-long learning. As these early educational systems are being developed and expanded, it is the hope of the BEF Board that the information learned from this initiative will inform this work so that equitable learning opportunities can be provided for all children and the opportunity and achievement gaps are eliminated. We seek to use the results from this study to ensure that policies and practices focused on strengthening early childhood education, and education writ large, is done with the ultimate goal of reducing economic and racial disparities and simultaneously ensuring that all children are meeting their potential from birth through adulthood.
An article concerning this initiative written by Elizabeth Pungello Bruno, Ph.D., Barbara Crockett, and Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D. was recently published by MontessoriPublic in their spring issue focused on equity in Montessori public educational settings.
Additional Resources Concerning Montessori
The Montessori Comeback in Forbes by Emily Langhorne
The Montessori Preschool Landscape in the United States: History, Programmatic Inputs, Availability, and Effects, an ETS Research Report by Debra J. Ackerman