Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A note to Mario (Is Montessori education better?)(Prove it!)

There is some research comparing Montessori education to conventional education. The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) may be the best laboratory for such comparisons for several reasons: (1) its Montessori program has been in continuous operation for almost 40 years; (2) it is of high quality – in the AMI tradition; (3) MPS has kept good longitudinal records of students; and (4) students are randomly selected for the program by lottery. This creates a perfect “control” group: students who applied for the Montessori program but were not selected vs those who were selected.

In one study of MPS students, (another article, same study) this is the summary result:
“A significant finding in this study is the association between a Montessori education and superior performance on the Math and Science scales of the ACT and WKCE. In essence, attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to eleven predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.”

In another study of MPS students reported in Science magazine (a rare venue for school research), this was the summary finding for 11-year olds:
“At the end of elementary school,Montessori children wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school.”

And although the Montessori program did not have the “test culture” of conventional schools, the 11-year old Montessori students’ test scores were equal to or better than those of students in the conventional schools. Equal to or better than. Not the resounding “Montessori students blew them out of the water,” which would have unequivocally demonstrated superiority. This finding is consistent with Post Oak students’ performance on the annual CTP-4 achievement test. On the national norms, our average student scores at the 90th percentile. However, the private school norms are more of an apples to apples comparison, and on that measure, the average Post Oak student performs as well as or better than the average student in private independent schools across the country – despite the fact that we are playing on their home court: multiple choice standardized tests.

Steve Hughes, President of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology, is an advocate for Montessori education. He spoke at the recent AMI conference in Ft. Worth and told the audience that we need to collect data to demonstrate how Montessori education impacts personal development – in addition to academic test scores. We tell parents this, and he observes it. But we have not collected the data to tell the story more persuasively.

Here’s his hypothesis: Montessori schools can demonstrate that their students develop more advanced social skills, creativity, self-control, intrinsic motivation, executive functioning and moral reasoning than do their counterparts in conventional schools – without sacrificing academic performance.

Background: Unlike conventional schools, Montessori schools care about more than test results. Yes, Montessori schools do care about cognitive development and academic learning; but their first aim is to create positive learning communities in order to develop creative, self-motivated young people who are kind and compassionate, who demonstrate high levels of self-control and self-management, and who work well with others. Just like academic achievement, growth in these areas can be measured. The instruments are out there and are used all the time by neuropsychologists, developmental psychologists, cognitive psychologists, educational psychologists, and educational researchers.

Dr. Hughes is launching a national research project to collect this data over the next five years.

Here are some examples of norm-referenced assessments of social skills, creativity (or this alternative), internal vs external motivation (locus of control), executive functioning, and moral judgment. These are examples of the skills that Dr. Hughes suggests we test over the next 5 years in order to confirm what we know: that Montessori students do better in these areas than students in conventional schools. That is why parents often say, “Montessori kids are different.” This will tell us HOW they are different…and measure it in ways that can be described.

If you want to view Dr. Hughes’ presentation at the AMI conference, you can find it here (“Montessori outcomes in preparation for adulthood”).


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