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. AMS, AMI-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?!