Montessori: More culturally responsive
This article appears in the Spring 2021 issue of MontessoriPublic — Print Edition.
A new study compares Montessori to “no excuses”
A new study comparing Montessori and the “no excuses” model finds that Montessori is (or can be) a culturally responsive pedagogy, and that the approach “avoids the concerns raised by no excuses schools while delivering positive outcomes.”
The study, from Angeline Lillard and researchers at the University of Virginia (An Alternative to “No Excuses”: Considering Montessori as Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, in press with the Journal of Negro Education), compares the “no excuses” model to Montessori on outcomes and cultural responsiveness.
“No excuses” schools, of which KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is perhaps the best-known example, emerged over the last two decades as an effort to address the so-called “achievement gap” between Black and white children on standardized tests, taking as a guiding principle that there is “no excuse” for schools and adults to allow unequal achievement. They’re known for rigid behavior requirements, tight discipline, punishments and rewards, and heavy reliance on testing. Many of these schools have been successful in raising graduation and college enrollment rates, but have also been criticized for being unresponsive to cultural differences and, at their worst, contributing to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Montessori, on the other hand, takes almost the opposite approach, emphasizing self-motivated behavior, internal discipline, intrinsic rewards, and lower reliance on high-stakes tests. Yet some public Montessori schools have been shown to produce high levels of achievement and a reduction in so-called “gaps.”
This paper focuses in on the culturally responsive aspects of Montessori education, observing that the approach aligns with five established principles of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP):
Equity and Excellence
Teaching and Empowering the Whole Child
Strong and Positive Relationships
Respect for Culture
The authors went on to interview 12 adults (ten Black, two Hispanic, and one white) who attended an independent, Black-led Montessori school in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s and 1990s. Their recollections showed an alignment with their lived experience of Montessori education and the principles of CRP:
Equity: Differentiation and self-determination
“I think definitely the Montessori environment let me know that I could identify what it is that I’m interested in, capitalize on those things, learn those materials, perfect those materials at my own pace, and then move forward on to the next project.”
Excellent academic preparation
“I was kind of in the more advanced group [in conventional school], as far as like math and reading, things like that, and even, I would say, probably like behavior. And I think part of that is due to parental involvement and things like that, but part of it is also I think due to the exposure I was given at [Montessori].”
“Again and again it gave me the confidence to keep going and being in a competitive academic environment. It gave me that confidence to succeed and go on and further my education.”
“[Other] students that … been taught only one way, maybe at the expense of conceptual understanding, of kind of why things were that way, or how things look, and spatial relations.”
“Montessori taught me a very good social skillset, which allowed me to transition easily [to conventional school in first grade]…I learned about interacting with kids, how to deal with conflict, how to share, sitting in circles, and listening to instruments.”
Respect for culture:
“We had a diverse class—mostly people from all different ethnicities.” The one White respondent said, “I appreciate…the fact that it was normal to be in such a diverse community and that it took me a long time [to see] that that wasn’t normal for every White kid to have that. And I think that has shaped a lot of how I see the world.”
The authors conclude that:
“No excuses schools are intended to promote equality by bringing more Black children to and through college, but they are problematic from a social justice lens. We have shown that Montessori education is not only well aligned with the principles of CRP, but also that Black children thrive in Montessori based on metrics like academic achievement and discipline disproportionality…. For these reasons, Montessori should be more closely considered and more fully implemented as an alternative approach for the education of all children.”
Dr. Angeline Lillard is the Director of the Early Development Lab at the University of Virginia. Jessica Taggart is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the lab. Daniel Yonas is a Doctoral Student at Columbia University in the City of New York. Nia Seale is the Director of Training at AMI Montessori Study Centre in Lagos, Nigeria.
David worked in private Montessori for more than twenty years as a parent, three-to-six year-old and adolescent teacher, administrator, writer, speaker, and advocate. In 2016 he began working with the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. David lives in Portland, Oregon.