Wait, What Just Happened? Montessori in the White House

Last Wednesday, December 10, my Montessori feed (Facebook, email, etc.) blew up about something called the White House Summit on Early Education and something about $15 million for public Montessori programs.

OK, you got my attention—but what exactly happened? Here’s some context:

First, you need to know that President Obama has been making a big deal about Early Childhood Education (ECE in the education world) since at least his State of the Union speech in 2013 (full videoECE talking points). In his 2014 address, Obama set the goal of a public-private partnership to greatly expand and improve publicly funded ECE. At last week’s White House Summit on Early Education, Obama fulfilled that goal, announcing $750 million in public support and $330 million in private funding through Invest In Us, a major initiative of the First Five Years Fund (itself a project of the Ounce of Prevention Fund—welcome to the world of high-level philanthropy).

More attention and money for ECE is good news for children almost no matter what, given the quality and availability of what’s offered now. But we know that having Montessori in the mix would be even better news for children and good for education in general. And that’s what’s exciting about what happened at the summit. Part of that private $330 million is a $15 million commitment from Trust For Learning, a collaborative fund supporting Montessori education and a project of the McCall-KulakFamily Foundation and the McTeague Catalyst Fund, which organized and funded the Montessori Leaders Collaborative (previously on TMO), which brought together the leaders of the Montessori movement in the U.S. including AMS and AMI-USA, helped launch the Montessori Census, sponsored the State Public Policy Project, and more (TMO here and here).

So on Wednesday, Stephanie Miller, Executive Director of Trust For Learning (along with a team of founding partners, foundation partners, board members, etc.) was at the Summit, a six hour invitation only gathering at the White House with lunch in the Indian Treaty Room, breakouts, and a 30 minute address from the President.  So when we talk about Montessori being at the table, in the room with the people spending money and making decisions at the highest levels, that’s what we’re talking about.

And about that $15 million: That’s a 5 year commitment to programs supported by various partner foundations “aligned with a central Trust For Learning strategy for bringing high quality public Montessori to more children in this country, especially the ones who need it most.”  That means it will be spent locally, and the key, according to Miller, is to “build momentum at the local and state levels.”* This is where Montessorians everywhere can  join state organizations, talk to local leaders, and get involved.  There’s a movement on!

* More about the Trust for Learning and how to connect:

Trust for Learning is a collaborative fund of partners, all of whom are committed to bringing public Montessori and developmentally appropriate approaches to more children in this country.  The Trust is doing this work through a collective national strategy, and does not accept unsolicited proposals at this point.  That said, the Trust always welcomes news and inquiries from the field through the website at www.trustforlearning.org or by contacting the Executive Director, Stephanie Miller, at miller@trustforlearning.org.

Montessori Class Size: Sam Chaltain Aks “What if?”

“National educator and educational change consultant” Sam Chaltain (Wiki) has an interesting piece on his blog (Democracy. Learning. Voice.), cross-posted at Huffington Post: In Trying to Reduce Class Sizes, Are We Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem? Interesting in part because it gives five paragraphs — a third of the post — to Montessori, citing The Absorbent Mind and Dr. Angeline Lillard.

Money quote that brings him to Montessori:

But what if we viewed school with a different set of guiding assumptions? What if, for example, the default mode of instruction didn’t depend on the transmission of knowledge via a single lesson? What if the philosophy of learning was that children should learn from one another as much or more than from any adult? And what if the model of discipline was not based on restricting a child’s movements, but on unleashing them?

Now, Chaltain is kind of big wheel in the education world: former teacher, author or co-author of six books, prolific newspaper, magazine, and internet writer, previously national director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, and the founding director of the Five Freedoms Project, etc., etc.  And he’s written about Montessori before: (Energy or Entropy), and talked us up at TEDx.

And what’s that he’s saying in that first piece: “I spent the other morning in my son’s Montessori classroom.” Nothing like first-hand experience to inform the dialogue!

Testing, Testing…

It’s been a while since I posted…is this thing on?

This caught my eye: “States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing An F”

It says “States”, but it’s mostly about Florida, an early and eager adopter of high-stakes testing under the aegis of “accountability”, which is now joining the national movement (FairTest.org, UnitedOptOut.com, Facebook) to push back against standardized testing.  And no wonder:

In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.

Of course, Montessori schools don’t have much use for tests and grades:

The bad marks with which teachers weigh up the work of girls and boys is like measuring lifeless objects with a balance, measured like inanimate matter, not judged as a part of life.  (Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence)

And they are rarely to be found in Montessori schools.

But Montessori was a scientist, and we can’t turn our back on the science of standardized testing.  The math is unassailable, and it really does give you a detailed, unbiased picture of what you’re testing.  It just depends on what you’re measuring.  Montessori students are hard to measure accurately, for reasons discussed here.  One of the few solid studies we have is Rathunde and Csikszentmihalyi’s 2003 work, which accurately compared Montessori and non-Montessori middle school students while filtering out demographic biases such as race and income.  And what did they find?  Montessori students:

  • liked school better
  • felt more active, strong, excited, happy, sociable, and proud
  • enjoyed themselves more, were more interested in what they were doing, and wanted to do schoolwork
  • reported higher interest and motivation
  • experienced more challenge

In the school I work for, at Elementary conferences, parents get a list of lessons the student has had.  Our guides use software which can record a “status” for each lesson—something like “presented, practiced, proceeding with guidance, mastered”.  We recently decided to use only “presented”, for several reasons.  First, the volume of data:  30 children averaging 5 choices a day gives 150 “work events” per day to record. The laptop would have to be out and humming every minute, and we just didn’t want that to be the center of the classroom.  No doubt guides would record less than that, but how could they be sure of a random sample?

Second, we wanted to represent to parents the reality of what our guides do, which is give lessons.  The work afterwards is the child’s responsibility.  Guides know each child’s work intimately, of course, and they would be happy to tell you how Jason followed up on his Viscosity lesson, or sit down with you and Amber’s work journal. That’s what the conference is for.

Some parents were concerned about what goes on to middle school.  And that got me thinking about the difference between what we do, and grades and test scores.

A grade or score says this:  We warrant that, on this day at this time, this child was able to say or do or calculate these things. It doesn’t say anything about what the child knows or can do today, because no one can know that.

What we do is this:  We warrant that, over the last three years, this child has had all these lessons! And we warrant that we gave them in such a time and in such a way that she could not help but to be inspired and awakened.  Don’t believe us?  Just ask her.

And that’s why content testing is always going to be a challenge for Montessori schools.  Sure, we teach content, and we have the public school requirements as part of our classroom environments.  If the testing requirements will recede to a saner level, we can probably still do most of what we do and our children will pass the tests because they love to know things

But our idea of the whole purpose and program of education is radically different.  In the conventional model, education is about delivering content.  Adults decide what content, and when, and how, and how much, and children stand by to receive and be tested for their successful retention of content.

In Montessori, education is about human development.  That’s it, really: the understanding that humans have an inherent optimal path of development, which includes intellectual curiosity and the acquisition of culture, and that development can be helped or hindered.  Devise a test that can measure that, and we’ll be sure to excel.

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…

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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?