Public Montessori Elementary Schools

By Murray, Angela; Peyton, Vicki | Montessori Life, October 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Public Montessori Elementary Schools


Murray, Angela, Peyton, Vicki, Montessori Life


Public Montessori elementary schools have two challenges: They strive to achieve a child-centered Montessori environment and must also address the demands of state and federal requirements developed for more traditional educational settings.

Our study analyzed how schools were operating on both fronts. On the one hand, the study measured the degree to which schools reported they were living up to the ideals of establishing truly Montessori environments within public schools (based on characteristics identified by the American Montessori Society as essential for the success of Montessori schools in the public sector). On the other hand, the study also gauged public Montessori elementary school leaders' perceptions of the greatest challenges facing their schools.

An online survey gathered information from public Montessori elementary school leaders between April 24, 2005, and June 1, 2005. The 85 participants in the study represented onethird (32.3%) of the public Montessori elementary schools in the United States contained in a comprehensive listing compiled by Jola Publications and Montessori Connections (Jola Publications & IntelleQuest Education Company, 2005). The regional composition of study participants was very similar to the geographic distribution of schools in the comprehensive directory. Of the 73 respondents who classified their leadership role, 64 percent were school principals.

The study highlighted the degree to which these schools were extending the opportunity for a Montessori education to an economically and ethnically diverse group of students. Over onethird of the students in these schools participated in free- or reduced-cost lunch programs (M=35.4, SD=25.4). In fact, almost a third of schools (30.8%) reported the majority of their students participated in free- or reduced-cost lunch programs. As Table 1 demonstrates, ethnic composition varied a great deal among schools reporting their demographic profile. On average, the largest proportion of students in the schools was white. However, the majority of students in one-third of the schools were children classified as American Indian, black, Hispanic, or another ethnic group (34.5%).

This study incorporated public Montessori elementary school leaders' descriptions of their schools on several dimensions. First, participants provided basic school characteristics, such as admission criteria, enrollment information, and enrollment trends. They followed with Montessori practices and attitudes, outlining teacher background and classroom structure. Next, testing practices and attitudes toward standardized testing were described. Finally, they enumerated the greatest challenges facing their schools.

School Characteristics

Most schools offered programs for preschool children but not middleschool children. The average age of the youngest child served in these Montessori elementary schools was 3.9 years with the majority (69%) serving children under the age of five (SD=3.3). The average oldest age served was 11.9 (SD=12.0) with over half (56%) having a maximum age of 11 or 12.

The number of children enrolled in each school varied dramatically, ranging from as few as 15 students to as many as 800 students. The average total enrollment was 216.3 (SD=160.4) while the average enrollment of elementary children was 166.9 (SD=124.2). Almost onethird of the schools (32.9%) reported having only elementary students enrolled.

Figure 1 illustrates the enrollment trends for these schools. Most schools indicated that the number of children enrolled in their Montessori programs was growing.

Another sizable group reported their programs' enrollment was remaining stable, with a small number admitting enrollment in their programs was on the decline. In addition, more than three in four (78.8%) schools had a larger number of children wishing to attend than they could accommodate. Only 7.1 percent of schools had unfilled spaces in their programs after enrolling all children wishing to attend. …

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