High School Outcomes for Students in a Public Montessori Program

By Dohrmann, Kathryn Rindskopf; Nishida, Tracy K. et al. | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

High School Outcomes for Students in a Public Montessori Program


Dohrmann, Kathryn Rindskopf, Nishida, Tracy K., Gartner, Alan, Lipsky, Dorothy Kerzner, Grimm, Kevin J., Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. The study compares two groups of students who graduated from high school in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) during 1997-2001. Students who had participated in MPS Montessori programs from preschool through 5th grade were matched to a comparison group on the basis of gender, SES, race/ethnicity, and high school attended. Data from the ACT and WKCE, as well as overall and subject-specific high school grade point averages, were used in exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses. Once a model was established, the factors were regressed on the students" demographic characteristics and type of elementary education in a structural equation modeling framework. The Montessori group had significantly higher scores on tests associated with the math-science factor. There were no significant group differences for the factors associated with English/social studies and grade point average.

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A Montessori education is one of the more common alternatives to traditional schooling. In the United States, more than 5,000 Montessori schools are affiliated with national or international Montessori organizations, and many others operate independently. Montessori schools are typically characterized by multiage classrooms, unique didactic materials, self-pacing, self-chosen activities, and a virtual absence of homework, grades, and standardized tests.

In recent years, Montessori programs have expanded from private to public settings, and from preschool into elementary school and beyond. This growth of a system with decidedly different pedagogical practices, coupled with the demand for assessment and scientifically supported teaching methods, has raised questions of accountability. The purpose of the current research, which assesses longitudinal outcomes for children who experienced eight to nine years of education in Montessori public schools, was to determine whether Montessori programs offer a viable educational alternative.

Outcomes of Montessori Education

Studies of Montessori schools span nearly a century and cover diverse topics. Researchers have explored relationships between Montessori education and various outcomes, ranging from private speech (Krafft & Berk, 1998) and drawing ability (Cox & Rowlands, 2000), to positive emotions, energy, and intrinsic motivation (Rathunde & Csikszentmihalyi, 2005). However, the majority of research on Montessori outcomes has focused on students' cognitive achievements.

The results from these studies are often difficult to interpret and generalize from because of methodological shortcomings, such as small sample size, attrition, lack of random assignment, and poor or unmeasured implementation of Montessori practices. In addition, such confounding factors as parental choice (Hill & Craft, 2003; Shumow, Vandell, & Kang, 1996) and the high-SES level of most Montessori students (Duax, 1989) have not always been taken into account. Although these problems render the results of such research inconclusive, the general picture that emerges is that Montessori students might outperform traditionally schooled peers.

In one of the more experimentally sound studies, Miller and Dyer (1975) assessed four different Head Start programs in Louisville by randomly assigning 214 children to one of 14 classes: 4 traditional, 4 Bereiter-Engelmann, 4 Darcee, and 2 Montessori. Because no qualified Montessori teachers could be found, the researchers recruited college graduates, who were then given eight weeks of summer Montessori training. Children were assessed through 2nd grade, and then again from 6th to 10th grade. Different measures were employed at different ages, but included Stanford Achievement tests, Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, the WISC-R, Ravens Progressive Matrices, and tests of self-esteem, creativity, aspirations, sex-role behavior, and persistence.

Over time, the performance of the children shifted, with initial gains followed by losses. …

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