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Riley Institute: Montessori programs have positive impact

Staff Report //January 31, 2018//

Riley Institute: Montessori programs have positive impact

Staff Report //January 31, 2018//

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A five-year study by the Riley Institute at Furman University shows evidence a Montessori education in South Carolina has a positive impact on students.

It is the most comprehensive study of public Montessori programs ever conducted in the United States, according to a news release.

“With the exception of California, there are more public Montessori programs in South Carolina than in any other state in the country,” Brooke Culclasure, the study’s principal investigator, said in the release. “We wanted to explore how this growing method impacts students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and teachers.”

Researchers used existing student record databases maintained by the S.C. Department of Education to examine standardized test performance, discipline and attendance. Going beyond existing data, researchers directly assessed students to measure other variables such as executive function and creativity.

“Sometimes people assume that Montessori is an elite approach to education for privileged students and is only available in the private sector. The reality is the majority Montessori students in public schools are from low-income households, and they seem to be benefiting in several ways from Montessori education,” Culclasure said.

Montessori public school students exhibited significantly more achievement growth on state standardized tests than demographically similar non-Montessori students in math, English language arts and social studies. The results for science were mixed, as Montessori students demonstrated significantly less growth than non-Montessori students in one year (2013-14) and significantly more growth in another year (2015-16), according to the study.

The study shows the benefits of Montessori extend beyond academic achievement, as Montessori students also demonstrated better school attendance and behavior. Montessori students generally perform similar to or better than non-Montessori students on assessments of executive function, which encompasses abilities such as emotional control, planning and organization, and self-monitoring.

There were no consistent differences between the two groups on work habits or social skills. Montessori students demonstrated significantly higher levels of creativity than non-Montessori students, according to the study.

“This evaluation provides evidence that public Montessori programs are having a positive impact on students,” Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute, said in the release. “Despite factors that traditionally produce disparities in education, Montessori students are performing well. States and districts can use this kind of information as they decide which teaching methodologies are appropriate in which settings.”

Researchers also surveyed teachers in public Montessori programs. Most reported they loved their jobs and planned to remain in the profession. However, teachers did report some difficulty teaching the competency-based Montessori model, in which progress is generally measured by teacher observation.