Universal pre-kindergarten is all over the news today, thanks to Bill deBlasio, newly elected democratic mayor of New York City, who turned down Governor Cuomo’s $1.5 billion-with-a-b offer as too stingy. DeBlasio won 73% of the vote with a plan to tax city incomes over $500,000 to pay for a huge expansion, and he seems to think he can get it. However the chips fall, early childhood education in New York is about to get super-sized.
This ought to be great news for Montessori, right? A titan of money and influence is about to go looking for the best early childhood model going and implement it with national visibility and a budget we don’t even have a concrete material for! (A thousand cube made up of million cubes will give you a rough idea.)
But that’s not what’s going to happen. Bill deBlasio may have heard of Montessori, or not. But it’s not likely that he’s going to look to an internationally practiced, developmentally based approach with a hundred-year pedigree to implement in New York City. There are two reasons for that.
First, even if he wanted it, Montessori doesn’t have the scale to meet his needs. The New York Times reports that there are about 100,000 4-year-olds in New York City. At 10 per class, that’s 10,000 classrooms. At a guess, that’s more primary teachers than were ever trained in the U.S. It’s very likely more primary classrooms than currently exist in this country. That’s not just out of our league—it’s out of our universe.
Second, you can be sure that whatever he implements will have reams of research and documentation to back it up. Now, this is a bit tricky. The research on early childhood intervention (basically Head Start and the Perry study) is mixed at best: academic gains tend to wash out by 8th grade or before, and the Perry study included just 123 children. This suggests a couple of things. First, even if cognitive gains are lost with later schooling, let’s not forget that improving children’s well-being while they are still children is a net reduction in human misery, and could be considered an end in itself. Second, if the gains of supportive and attentive education are lost when children enter the traditional model, maybe it’s the traditional model that has the problem!
But that’s all moot, because Montessori doesn’t have much data one way or another. And why is that? It goes back to Montessori not having a well-documented population, or even agreed-on definitions. And what would help with that? How about a national survey of Montessori schools, documenting number, distribution, demographic profile, Montessori practices, professional affiliation, etc.?
Oh wait—someone’s on it! In case you somehow haven’t heard, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector has a census out, and anyone—well, any Montessori school—can play. If your (U.S.) school is not on the census, stop reading and click on over now. Or send that email to your head of school. Here’s that link again: montessoricensus.org. Jackie Cossentino said it. Keith Whitescarver said it. Stephen Hughes said it.
The Montessori census will serve as a gateway for collaborative, wide-scale Montessori research in the US. We need high-quality schools to get involved so that they can be asked to participate in future Montessori research.
More Montessori for more children? Step one: More Montessori. More awareness, more children enrolled—even if they pay tuition! More teacher trainers, more trained teachers, more schools. Step two: reaching more children. More Montessori for more children who can’t afford tuition. More studies for policy makers. More data for school boards. More great stories for decision makers. More great Montessori.