Montessori on Facebook

Montessori has been blowing up a little bit on Facebook recently. Three groups I’m following:

AMI Montessori Teachers:

This group is for Montessori teachers of all levels, Assistants to Infancy, Primary, Elementary, Middle School who are AMI trained and passionate about their work. Let’s come together online and create a welcoming community to support one another in our work!!”

1,145 members. New posts every few days or so. Posts are typically at a fairly professional level: implementing second language immersion, AMI job opportunities, computer use, but the occasional question like “where do you get your forks?”

Montessori Teachers:

The Montessori Teachers group is an international discussion page and online social meeting space for professional Montessori educators. The purpose of this group is professional development; to encourage a deepening of our understanding of Montessori philosophy, and support each other in applying this to our daily practices.

3,429 members. An emphasis on professionalism and civil discourse. Multiple posts daily, often with dozens of comments. Recent intense conversations: Montessori-inspired: pro or con?, work journals and work plans, and, what are the essential elements of a Montessori material? This is a very active group.

Montessori 101:

Welcome to Montessori 101, the Facebook group for Montessori newbies! Whether you’re looking for Montessori in the home strategies, creating a Montessori-inspired home school classroom, or thinking about teaching in a classroom, this group will embrace your questions and thoughts with the respect and grace that Maria Montessori was known and loved for.

6790 (!) members. This is wide-open discussion of Montessori which welcomes newcomers and experienced teachers alike. Lots of questions and discussions about homeschooling and Montessori-inspired parenting.

Next up: Montessori on Pinterest.

New Public Montessori Schools: Class of 2014 Edition

The Montessori Observer:

15 new and expanding public Montessori programs serving at least 1,000 more chldren!

Originally posted on Following the Family:

The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector welcomes fifteen new and expanded Montessori programs to the Public Montessori family.

New Schools

Children’s Kiva Charter Montessori School in Cortez, Colorado opens with 70 students from preK (a tuition based program) to 1st-6th grade (tuition free). The school will open a middle school next year. Principal Josh Warinner came from a local public school, part of the Children’s Kiva School’s close collaboration with the Cortez School District. Click here to read more.

Dante Alighieri Montessori School in Boston, Massachusetts is Boston Public School District’s first public Montessori school and serves students ages 3 to 11 in a historic brick school in East Boston. The school grows out of East Boston Early Learning Center’s Montessori program, and students who attended have guaranteed admission at the new school.

Dixie Montessori Academy in Washington City, Utah is a K-7 Montessori charter school developed…

View original 728 more words

The Montessori Census: Montessori Observes Itself

Thanks to some friends at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, I got a look at the data for the Montessori Census—the Center’s work gathering demographic information about Montessori schools in the United States, an essential first step for any research program which wants to seriously study Montessori education. Who are we? What do we do? Which children do we serve, where, in what kinds of schools? Before we can know how to act, we must first observe.

So if your school isn’t in the Census, stop right now and go get listed.  Follow this link, or email it to the person at your school who can make it happen. It only takes a few minutes. We’ll wait for you.

These are preliminary results. We estimate that only one Montessori school in four is represented. Some schools responded directly to the Census, and others were imported from existing databases. Many schools still need to respond, and national organizations could contribute more information. The data are incomplete. Help complete it—here’s that link again: http://www.montessoricensus.org/

Still, there’s much to see in what we do have, and much more to discover. Some headline numbers and extrapolations:

Schools counted: 1,165. Statistics suggest this represents one our of four schools in the U.S., for a national estimate of about 4,650.

Children enrolled: 138,419. Surely low, since about 400 schools reported no data. 800,000 students in the U.S. is a rough guess at the real number.

Teachers: about 8,000. More statistics witchery suggests around 35,000 in the U.S, on a par with “Ship and Boat Captains and Operators” or anesthesiologists. (Bureau of Labor)

Public and Private: The public numbers are a little more solid, since this grew out of an established public school census. Here’s how the data break down:

private Census data projected
(estimate)
for-profit 299  1200
non-profit 377  1500
total 676  2700
public
charter 188  750
district 201  800
magnet 100  400
total 489  1950
grand total 1165  4650

Most of the public schools are in, so there may be another 3,000 private schools not represented. Stand up and be counted, people! (Here’s that link again: 2013-14 USA Monterssori Census)

I’ve been putting together a little database to look at the numbers a few different ways, so this is just the beginning. But let’s get some more numbers behind our numbers. In this world, it’s the people who get counted that count.

 

Montessori With Finnish Characteristics

Finland broke out on the education scene in 2010 after the controversial film Waiting for Superman (wiki) publicized that country’s surprising strength in international rankings with an education system founded on equity, serious teacher preparation, and a striking absence of testing. From the Finnish National Board of Education, helpfully provided in English:

The main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education. The structure of the education system reflects these principles. The system is highly permeable, that is, there are no dead-ends preventing progression to higher levels of education.

The focus in education is on learning rather than testing. There are no national tests for pupils in basic education in Finland. Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum.

Other elements include critical support for early childhood education, formal education beginning at 7, a homogenous culture, and centralized control in a small country. (Finland has a population of 5.4 million, about the size of Minnesota.)

The New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Smithsonian, among many others, took notice, and Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg’s 2012 book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn about Educational Change in Finland? covered the system in detail.

And Finland is still hot, although they have slipped in the rankings.

Now Sahlberg has a post picked up by Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss: Five U.S. innovations that helped Finland’s schools improve but that American reformers now ignore.  (With a follow-up comment from Howard Gardner!) The essence: Finland’s system is driven by innovations researched in the U.S. but not adopted here. And what are the innovations? Some of them sound strangely familiar…

It’s a long piece—read the whole thing here. Edited, highlighted, and annotated:

Finland’s Innovations in Education

1. John Dewey’s Philosophy of Education

[I]n an ideal classroom, pupils speak more than the teacher. … It is understandable that the pragmatic, child-centered educational thinking of John Dewey has been widely accepted among Finnish educators. … Many Finnish schools have adopted Dewey’s view of education for democracy by enhancing students’ access to decision-making regarding their own lives and studying in school.

Dewey (father of progressive, constructivist education) has a bad name in Montessori because his follower W. H. Kilpatrick publicly slighted her work in 1915, but at a one hundred year remove, they have a great deal in common. She merits 20 sensitive, detailed, mostly positive pages in his 1915 book Schools of Tomorrow. But that’s another post.

2. Cooperative Learning

Unlike in most other countries, cooperative learning has become a pedagogical approach that is widely practiced throughout Finnish education system. … The 1994 National Curriculum included a requirement that all schools design their own curricula in a way that would enhance teaching and learning according to constructivist educational ideas.

3. Multiple Intelligences

This part leans heavily on Martin Gardner’s work, but take out the jargon and here’s what’s left:

[S]chool reform in Finland included another idea …: development of the whole child. The overall goal of schooling in Finland was to support the child’s holistic development and growth … schools have a balanced program, blending academic subjects with art, music, crafts, and physical education. This framework moreover mandated that all schools provide students with sufficient time for their self-directive activities.

4. Alternative Classroom Assessments

Without frequent standardized and census-based testing, the Finnish education system relies on local monitoring and teacher-made student assessments. A child-centered, interaction-rich whole-child approach in the national curriculum requires that different student assessment models are used in schools. Furthermore, primary school pupils don’t get any grades in their assessments before they are in fifth grade.

5. Peer Coaching

Peer coaching—that is, a confidential process through which teachers work together to reflect on current practices, expand, improve, and learn new skills, exchange ideas, conduct classroom research and solve problems together in school

This doesn’t really have anything to do with Montessori. But, it sure sounds like a good idea!

There’s been a lot about what we can’t learn from the Finns, and how their small, homogenous, welfare-state system isn’t relevant to our situation. But what if there were already a well-developed model, available here, that was founded on the same principles…what would that look like?

Forward, Adovcacy! Now With ECERS-R

That comment the other day about advocacy for public Montessori obviously caught my attention. More people should know about the outstanding advocacy work at Montessori Forward, a website, blog, Google group, and community of Montessorians which make up a crowd-sourced yet deeply researched source for the latest advocacy and public policy news.

Now the MForward community has come out with a tool that could be a huge boost for Montessori Primary programs engaging with QRIS (Quality Rating and Improvemt Systems) policies in their states.  You may have heard of the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, or ECERS-R, a widely used instrument for rating pre-school programs under QRIS.  Montessori schools can do badly on the ECERS-R for lacking multiple sets of materials, plush toys, and dress-up.

MForward’s The Montessori Guide to ECERS-R, professionally written and incorporating successful work from several states, aligns Montessori practice with the goals of the ECERS-R standards and explains our developmental theory and pedagogy. It’s available on the site for anyone to use.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from Montessori Forward. Here’s a sampling:

  • Montessori Forward was first on the scene with QRIS and keeps a running narrative of Montessori schools’ struggles, strategies, and successes. There’s a great page of resources here.
  • Ohio recently passed charter school legislation allowing children under 5, as well as providing state teacher credentials for AMI and AMS trained teachers.
  • The Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a multi-billion dollar piece of legislation will be revised this year for the first time since 1996 with huge implications for all of early childhood education. Here’s the post; here’s a deep dive. Amendments specifically mentioning Montessori were under consideration, but may not make into the final draft.

Follow the blog for so much more. It’s an incredible resource.
.

Montessori and Google: Early Influences Count

Comes now an article (h/t Madmen) in The Guardian: How Google’s Larry Page became a responsible entrepreneur, by Carol Sanford (actually an excerpt from her new book The Responsible Entrepreneur). Excerpts from the excerpt:

To understand Google’s orientation toward creating global change, it’s helpful to know a bit about four influences that helped shape Larry Page’s world view: his grandfather’s history in the early labor movement, his education in Montessori schools, his admiration for the visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, and his participation in the LeaderShape Institute … These helped build in Page the desire and confidence to take on large-scale systemic change. (emphasis added)

An unconventional education was a second significant influence in Page’s life. Like his Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, Page attended Montessori schools until he entered high school. They both cite the educational method of Maria Montessori as the major influence in how they designed Google’s work systems. (emphasis in the original!)

This we’ve heard before, although corroboration is always great. But what’s also great is how she gets Montessori:

The Montessori Method believes that it has a “duty to undertake, in the school of the future, to revolutionize the individual.” Montessori’s ultimate goal of education was to create individuals who could improve society and were unafraid to take on seemingly impossible tasks. In fact, Montessori spoke at length about education for peace. “Everything that concerns education assumes today an importance of a general kind, and must represent a protection and a practical aid to the development of man; that is to say, it must aim at improving the individual in order to improve society”

Sounds about right. (The first quote is from long out-of-print Pedagogical Anthropology, believe it or not.  The second is in From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 59 in the Clio version.) Continuing on:

Maria Montessori believed that the liberty of the child was of utmost importance. For her it was imperative that the school allow a child’s activities to freely develop. Without this freedom, children could not grow the personal agency that would allow them to serve a social purpose as adults. Thus, Page’s childhood education promoted independence. It encouraged students to grow at their own rate. They were allowed large chunks of uninterrupted time to work on projects they created themselves. Students were encouraged to take on small-scale but real-world challenges and to invent ways to solve them.

It’s easy to see how Google’s well-known policy of encouraging all engineers to dedicate 20% of work time to projects of personal interest grew directly out of this educational history. And why collaboration without supervision is core to Google’s work culture. And why Page repeatedly exhorts his colleagues to generate “10x returns” with regard to the social benefits they are striving to create. He is recreating the inspiring learning environment he had as a child, where the focus was on growing free people with the capacity to transform society.

This nails it. It wasn’t about early literacy, clever and intuitive materials, or a comprehensive approach to the study of the universe—although Montessori has all that. It was liberty, freedom to develop, independence, uninterrupted work, and  growing “the personal agency that would allow them to serve a social purpose as adults.

Comments are open on the Guardian piece. More about Carol Sanford at her website. More about the book here.

Montessori in the Public Sphere

So this is happening in St. Louis, once again thanks to the Montessori Madmen:

Montessori billboard

It’s an advertising collaboration among five St. Louis area schools—$4500 for the billboard, so $900 each.  (The Madmen can help you put one up in your town, if you want.) A great investment if it brings in even one new student.  Beyond that, it puts Montessori in the public eye.

Why is that so important? Private businesses join together to advertise their product to families who can pay the price—why is that news? On Facebook, someone asked if there was similar advocacy for Montessori in the public sector. Regular readers will know of many such efforts: the Madmen themselves, with their “Make it Montessori” campaign, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, Montessori Forward, the joint AMI-AMS Montessori Public Policy Committee, and more.

But it’s true-most Montessori teachers work in, and most Montessori children attend, private tuition-based programs. Why is that? It’s not a lack of motivation.You’ll hardly find a stronger advocates for children than Montessori teachers, who will be quick to remind you that the first Montessori Casa dei Bambini in San Lorenzo served 50 poor children from working families. “All children deserve Montessori,” my Facebook commenter said, and that’s what we want out movement to be about.

But there are significant challenges for public Montessori. People who work in these environments can no doubt say more about this than I can, but here’s what I see.

Before you start, there are challenges to even getting to implement public Montessori.  First, there’s negotiating the bureaucracy and politics surrounding charter, magnet, or other alternative school programs where your Montessori model might happen. Beyond the red tape, there’s the enormous challenge of bringing in a huge change of culture for school systems and teachers. Montessori can be transformative—that’s what makes it so important to bring to children. But that’s also what makes it so threatening.

Once you get a program going, there’s the challenge of keeping it going and doing it well. The holistic nature of Montessori makes it hard to implement one grade at a time—but that might be all you get to start. Even if you can bring Montessori children up through the system, you may not have funding for 3 and 4 year olds, so you may be starting with kindergarten or 1st grade. You’ll face ongoing bureaucracy and politics, and school practices (such as testing) that get in the way of your work. Teachers can get demoralized, programs can go downhill, and before long you may have people saying, “see, Montessori doesn’t work.”

So lots of people are doing private Montessori because that’s what there is nearby. Lots of people doing it because they would rather do great Montessori now than fight like crazy to do something Montessori-like only to see it compromised out of existence. “Children of privilege deserve progressive education too,” we tell ourselves. And lots of people, in Hartford, in Milwaukee, in D.C., and all over (check the NCMPS for a comprehensive census), do great public Montessori against all odds.

But those outstanding, highly visible, private programs, with their NPR spots and their billboards serve another purpose. An indirect preparation, if you will. They put Montessori in the public eye, if not in the public sector. People see those billboards and visit those schools, and they say, “There is a better way. How can we have this in our school district, for our children”

John Dewey laid down the cornerstone for public education over a century ago when he said:

What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.

But how can they know they want it if they don’t know it exists?