Finding Value in a Different Way to Learn

By Linda Jacobson — March 13, 2007 2 min read

A recent study of a public Montessori school in Milwaukee provides support for those who believe that Montessori’s philosophy of “freedom with responsibility” can develop children who are at least as successful academically—and in some areas, even more so—than those who are educated in traditional ways.

Conducted by psychology professors Angeline Lillard, from the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, and Nicole Else-Quest of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the study examines the performance of children randomly selected by lottery to attend Craig Montessori Elementary School. The pupils’ scores on a series of tests were compared with those of similar children who applied but did not get slots.

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Taming Montessori

On several measures of school readiness, such as letter and word recognition, word-decoding ability, and ability to solve math problems, 5-year-olds in the Montessori school scored higher than those who attended other schools.

On social and behavioral measures, the Montessori children were more likely to be involved in “shared peer play” on the playground and less likely to be involved in rough play. And regarding their school, they were more likely than those in the control group to say they felt a greater sense of community.

The 5-year-olds also were given what is known as a “false belief” test, which determines how well children recognize objective and subjective statements. Developing this skill, the researchers wrote in their study, is a “landmark achievement in social cognition.” Eighty percent of the Montessori students passed the exercise, compared with 50 percent of the control group.

On an essay, the responses of 12-year-old Montessori students were judged to be more creative and sophisticated than those of the control group. And on a social-skills test, the Montessori students were more likely to choose “positive assertive” responses to questions regarding social situations.

“Montessori education has a fundamentally different structure from traditional education,” the authors wrote in the Sept. 29 issue of the journal Science. “At least when strictly implemented, Montessori education fosters social and academic skills that are equal or superior to those fostered by a pool of other types of schools.”

But the researchers said it would be useful to replicate the study in different Montessori schools since the schools can “vary widely.” And they said it would be helpful to know if some aspects of the Montessori philosophy are connected with certain outcomes for students.

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Finding Value In a Different Way to Learn