Monthly Archives: August 2013

Montessori Advocacy

Here’s another piece of “Montessori On the Move” news that came out  of a Congress session.

For years—make that decades—Montessori in the United States has operated mostly outside the regulatory and academic framework which supports, oversees—and constrains! “mainstream” education and child care programs.  Montessori schools in most states have struggled with regulations designed to protect children from overcrowded, poorly supervised, and low-enrichment environments.  (It’s no wonder daycare can at times be as dismal as it is, given the low pay, low respect career path it is in our culture, but that’s a different post.) Regulators look at our classrooms of 28 or more children with glass pitchers and no dress-up area and don’t know what box to put us in.

The exciting news is that AMI-USA and AMS have joined forces on a national Montessori advocacy endeavor called the State Public Policy Project.  The multi-year, multi-state project has ambitions goals:

  • to improve the regulatory environment for Montessori schools
  • to raise Montessori awareness in the pubic policy world
  • to attract the notice and support of mainstream academia

Beginning in March 2012, AMI-USA hired Public Policy Project Manager Jaye Espy, who helped organize state coalitions in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Texas. Illinois and South Carolina formed coalitions in January 2013, and eight more states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee) came on board this year.  Coalitions in each state are co-chaired by representatives for AMI and AMS, and often work with existing state Montessori  associations.

Here’s a sampling of work that’s happening in several states:

Colorado: The Colorado Montessori Association has built a relationship with a state Senator and has an alternative licensure bill for Montessori teachers coming up in the January session. They have also made Montessori part of the QRIS (a widespread child-care rating system) conversation.

Maryland: Montessori Schools of Maryland has managed to get special considerations for Montessori schools written directly into the state child care regulations, effectively recognizing AMI and AMS training as fulfilling qualification requirements, allowing larger class sizes, and validating Montessori classroom work as “a balanced schedule of daily activities”.

Connecticut: Montessori Schools of Connecticut (MSC) Heads of School formed the Connecticut Montessori Advocacy Coalition (CTMAC) under the MSC.  This group of Montessorians with diverse trainings and backgrounds developed a set of common talking points describing ideal, authentic Montessori practice.  CTMAC is working with Connecticut Associatiobn of Independent Schools (CAIS) on an accreditation process for Montessori 3-6 programs as schools, in place of regulation by the Department of Public Health.

More to come in another post.  Also, QRIS (Quality Rating and Improvement System): What is it, why does it matter, and how are AMI and AMS working together to help state coalitions respond?  More information coming soon!

More From the Montessori Leaders Collaborative

A few days ago I wrote about the Montessori Leaders Collaborative and the big projects that are emerging from their work.  Two more pieces that deserve mention:

Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of Montessori Northwest, the Portland, Oregon training center which sponsored the 2013 International Montessori Congress, announced the Teacher Formation Working Group.  “Teacher Formation” rather than training is by design, to acknowledge the reality that the developmental work of becoming a Montessori teacher extends well beyond the training course.  The project will be a census of U. S. teacher preparation and professional development programs similar to the schools census.  This long-term survey will build a database of teacher training programs based on data already collected by MACTE, and will consider quality principles such as evidence of candidate learning, faculty learning and inquiry, and program capacity.  The Group has an immediate goal of connecting state teaching credentials to teacher training programs.

Also announced at the MLC breakout and recently launched online is the Montessor Charter Management Association (MCMA), a cooperative venture of NAMTA and NCMPS.  From the website:

MCMO is a network of charter public Montessori schools across the United States. We provide wide-ranging support including school management, coaching of school leaders, professional development, staff recruitment, fundraising, marketing, and more.

The Montessori movement is on the move!  Watch this space for more to come.

Historic Montessori Collaboration Launches Multiple Research Projects

Montessorians have not always got along all that well.

100 years ago the Montessori movement was a worldwide phenomenon led by a charismatic founder, Maria Montessori, who kept tight control over authenticity and implementation.  Like many such movements, it splintered even while its leader was alive, and factionalized further after her death.

In the United States, home to by far the largest Montessori community in the world, the factions are the most extreme. AMSAMI-USA the Montessori Foundation, MEPI, PAMS, and other smaller organizations train teachers, support schools, and promote competing versions of Montessori’s work. There’s been bad blood between AMS and AMI-USA in particular for decades, dating back to a rupture with Mario Montessori and AMI—although quiet collaborations have taken place over the years as well.

In the last few years, three grant makers from significant education-oriented foundations, who happened to have eight children in Montessori schools among them, turned their attention to Montessori as a source of innovation in education.  However, when they looked more closely at Montessori in the U.S., they were a little taken aback at the confusion and conflict they found, and started to think twice about backing the model.

Fortunately for children everywhere, they thought more than twice, and offered the movement some hard truth:  No one is going to research or fund Montessori until you get your house in order.  But we’re willing to help you come together.  It’s time to collaborate in the interest of the child.

What happened next was a historic collaboration.  The McCall-Kulak Family Foundation gathered leaders of AMI, AMI-USA, AMS, the Montessori Foundation, MEPI, NAMTA, MAA, EAA, and other organizations into a group dubbed the Montessori Leaders Collaborative, or MLC. (For help navigating this alphabet soup, see Montessori Organizations on this site.) The MLC began meeting in January of 2011, quietly at first. The occasional communique was issued and apparently some red wine was consumed, but not much of substance was made public.

That changed last week, at a Congress breakout, where MLC members and supporters told the group’s story and announced a host of exciting projects, some of which are already under way.

One of the biggest is a three-phase project called “What, Why, How?” headed by Jaqueline Cossentino of the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS) and pediatric neurospychologist and Montessori advocate Dr. Stephen Hughes.  The project will collect national data on Montessori so education researchers have a large, well-ordered data set to work with.

Phase I is a comprehensive census of Montessori schools in the U.S. at The Montessori Census Project This is huge.  Right now, no one really knows how many Montessori schools there are in the U.S., or what kind of Montessori they do.  From the site:

At completion, we will know enrollment figures, school sizes, the number of teachers and assistants, the amount of money spent on Montessori education, and programmatic insights. These statistics will be invaluable for individual Montessori schools and for the larger American educational community.

Phase II directs closer attention to 150 targeted schools and looks at teachers, classrooms, principals, alumni, and norm-referenced tests which measure areas where we expect Montessori students to shine: executive function, engagement, attention, etc.  Standardized academic tests will be included.  The end goal is Montessori Analytics, a database in the cloud accessible to researchers, schools, and families.

Phase III focuses on ages birth to six, and especially on intensive family engagement and vulnerable communities.  Four well-established, successful programs, East Dallas Community Schools*, Crossway Community, Cornerstone Montessori, and Family Star Montessori will be studied ethnographically as a foundation for further research and replication.

There’s much more than will fit in one blog post.  I’ll be working on a permanent page for the MLC and their projects on this site–and it looks like I need to flesh out some of the organization pages.  But first I will be sharing more of the MLC projects here in the next few days, so keep on eye on this page. (You can always sign up for email notifications by clicking on the link at the top of the page.)

* Not “East Alice”, as this post originally read!  What the heck is East Alice?!

Building the Pink Tower

Lots to report still from the Congress but I wanted to get the word out about this right now:

At the Congress I met Vina Kay, an education and public policy professional and writer, as well as Jan Selby, a film and video producer, and founder of Quiet Island Films. Vina and Jay are Montessori parents as well, and Quiet Island Films was responsible for the beautiful and  stirring videos used throughout the Congress.

Vina and Jan are working on a film called Building the Pink Tower: a high-quality, thoroughly researched, emotionally moving, feature-length documentary about Montessori education from preschool to high school, public and private.  I’ve posted their teaser on the videos page of this site so you can see what kind of work they do.  There’s a longer fundraising trailer embedded below.

This is not a cheap project. Vina and Jay need to raise $300,000 in all, and they’re up to $28,000 so far. They’re making a push for $100,000 by this fall, and they’re asking Montessori teachers, parents, alumni, and friends to kick in to their $10 Challenge.  There are 4500 Montessori schools in the U.S. alone, so if just a few people from each school gave $10, they would reach their goal.  If a few people put in a bit more, they would get there that much faster.

Here’s the fundraising trailer.  And here’s the $10 Challenge link again.  If you believe in more Montessori for more children and spreading the word, now you can put your money where your mouth is.

2013 Montessori Congress: Glass Classroom

A highlight of the 2013 International Montessori Congress in Portland, Oregon this week was a “Glass Classroom” installation in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Modeled on the Glass Classroom at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, the Portland event featured toddler, children’s house, and elementary environments operating for three hours in the middle of the bustling public space known affectionately as “Portland’s Living Room.”  Children climbed stairs, sliced bananas, walked on the line, rolled up rugs, counted golden beads, worked on grammar boxes, and even laid down for a nap, as curious adults passed by and stopped for a second look.  These aren’t the greatest shots, but they give the flavor of the event.

toddler environment

children’s house


The first Glass Classroom was itself a highlight of Montessori’s first visit to the United States.  The American Montessori Society has a good account of the event here, and the photograph below shows  (left to right) Mario Montessori, Helen Parkhurst, Maria Montessori, and Adelia Pyle looking on.


The 1915 Exhibition has inspired other models over the years.  In 2011, Crossway Community Montessori Charter School in Maryland presented a demonstration children’s house, and the 2012 AMS Annual Conference in San Francisco featured an elementary classroom.  Montessori in the Square, the 2013 Congress event, with classrooms at three levels, is the largest such exhibition to date.

2013 International Montessori Congress

The Montessori Observer has been offline for a while, loyal readers will have noticed, as the author moves across the country, settles back into the old house, and starts a new job.  But there’s something happening in Portland, Oregon that is too momentous to pass up.  That would be the 2013 International Montessori Congress.

Many—perhaps most!—TMO readers are here at the Congress in person.  But for those who couldn’t come, or curious as to what it’s all about, here’s a little context and background information.

The first International Montessori Congress was held in 1929 in Helsingör, Denmark, and the Association Montessori Internationale was founded by Maria Montessori and her son Mario at this event.  Since then, 26 Congresses have been held, including the current gathering in Portland.  Recent Congresses were held in Chennai (2009), Sydney (2005), and Paris (2001), and it last took place in the United States in Palo Alto in 1972.  (The complete list can be found at AMI here.)

The Congress features keynotes, breakouts, receptions, materials displays, school tours and more—in other words, much of what you will find at a typical AMI-USA, NAMTA, or AMS conference.  But historically the Congress has had greater significance than that.  As an international gathering of the Montessori movement, the Congress is intended, in the words of Congress organizers,

to cause movement and action in the international community; evoking the constant evolution of the Montessori movement by building on the intentions and accomplishments of the proceeding Congress.

Previous Congresses have marked turning points in the development of the international Montessori movement, such as the re-organization and revitalization of the Australian Montessori movement following the 2005 Sydney Congress.

Today’s challenge for Montessori is to greatly expand the method’s reach beyond its niche in classrooms of privileged children in Western developed economies, and to reconcile the differences which divide the Montessori world and prevent the movement from being a more powerful force in the world education crisis.  AMI President André Roberfroid spoke directly to these issues in his opening address, specifically welcoming the President of the AMS Board of Directors, Joyce Pickering, clearly stating that the Congress, although organized by AMI, was a Montessori event open to all, and challenging attendees to banish the idea that Montessori is only for those who can afford it.

There’s much more to share about the Congress: Brian Swimme’s inspiring keynote, the Glass Classroom in the middle of downtown Portland—and that’s just today’s events.  More to come as the event unfolds.