Montessori Education vs. Public School Education

Heather McCubbin
November 7, 2011
Filed under Education

The Montessori Method is named after Dr. Maria Montessori who was born in 1870 and was the first Italian woman to receive a medical degree. Horace Mann was a member of the Massachusetts State Senate but is known as “The Father of Education.” He was born in 1796 in Franklin, MA and formed the public school system that we are familiar with today. Is one system better than the other?

The basis for each educational system was similar; to educate children the public felt couldn’t succeed. Mann’s philosophy was that a universal public education was the best way to turn disobedient children into disciplined citizens. Decades earlier in Italy, Dr. Maria Montessori was appointed director of a facility where mentally retarded children were cared for by the state.  Here, she was able to test her theories on education. Several of her eight year old students passed the state reading and writing exams and earned above-normal scores. She then went on to study “normal” children and took her philosophy of teaching to new levels and to new countries.

What is it like inside each of these classrooms?  Public schools have the same basic areas. Each room has a certain number of tables or desks, shelves with extra books, board games, some toys and an area for the class to gather as a whole. Posters and rules are displayed around the classroom. While some public schools may be high tech and have the latest iPads or a Promethean board in each classroom, others may have just one computer lab for 400 students to share.

Entering into a Montessori school classroom (ranging from infant to age 11), you will see something quite different. Everything students need is easily accessible and at the appropriate height.  Jennifer M., a Montessori teacher in Maryland, says you will not see any toys like Legos, Tinker Toys or trucks. You will see children learning at their own pace as they follow their interests and curiosity. They do “work” for hours, at their speed with specially designed educational materials. Everything is educational in nature: puzzles of animals or countries, counting beads for math or an abacus. At Montessori, you will see a snack table set up for younger children to use when the desire strikes them; a teacher could be rolling out dough, with the help of children, in preparation for their snack. Learning daily life skills like food preparation along with cultivating independence in the child is a belief at Montessori.

Since Montessori education begins around the age of 18 months, you will begin paying for private Montessori years earlier than you normally would; the average cost is $3,000 to $20,000 per year. Meanwhile, public school is free and offer services from special education to magnet programs.

Another difference between the two schools is the make-up of the student body. You may see a wide range of ethnicity in the public school, depending on where the school is located. Since Montessori can be expensive, it is harder to draw students from certain socio-economic backgrounds. However, more Montessori schools are becoming public like in Prince George’s County, which means no tuition.

The credentials required to teach in these schools also differ. Horace Mann demanded six fundamental propositions for his public school policy, one of which was there would be well-trained professional teachers for all children, which carries over to present day. Teachers in public schools will have some type of college degree—depending on the age/grade/subject they are teaching. If you want to teach in Maryland, or any other state, you will need at least a Bachelor’s Degree.  Some Montessori teachers will have no formal training while others will have anything from a certificate to a Masters degree in Montessori Education; Loyola College in Maryland is one school that offers such a degree program. Montessori is not trademarked, so anyone can open a school and call it “Montessori.” However, there are public and private Montessori schools, too. The public Montessori schools adhere to state testing standards and are usually associated with a public school building. The private ones have benchmarks to meet, but don’t take the assessments many of us are familiar with in public schools.

Does a difference in the kind of childhood education affect the students later in life? The Association Montessori International is one of the few educational systems to perform a longitudinal study. You can read the entire report about Montessori vs. Public Schools in Milwaukee here: Ultimately, they discovered that a child in Montessori from approximately the ages 3-11 scored higher in Math and Science than a child who was educated in a public school system.

Studies between the two types of education have been minimal, but early education makes a big difference in a child’s life, so which one is better? More intense longitudinal studies will have to be done to find a definitive answer, if there is one.


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