Evaluating Montessori Education

Montessori Education Provides Better Outcomes than Traditional Methods, Study Indicates  

A study comparing outcomes of children at a public inner-city Montessori school with children who
attended traditional schools indicates that Montessori education leads to children with better social
and academic skills.
The study appears in the Sept. 29, 2006 issue of the journal Science.
Montessori education is characterized by multi-age classrooms, a special set of educational materials, student-chosen work in long time blocks, a collaborative environment with student mentors, absence of grades and tests, and individual and small group instruction in academic and social skills. More than 5,000 schools in the United States, including 300 public schools, use the Montessori method.
The Montessori school studied is located in Milwaukee and serves urban minority children.
Students at the school were selected for enrolment through a random lottery process. Those
students who "won" the lottery and enrolled at the Montessori school made up the study group. A
control group was made up of children who had "lost" the lottery and were therefore enrolled in
other schools using traditional methods. In both cases the parents had entered their children in the
school lottery with the hope of gaining enrolment in the Montessori school.
"This strategy addressed the concern that parents who seek to enrol their children in a Montessori
school are different from parents who do not," wrote study authors Angeline Lillard, a University of
Virginia professor of psychology, and Nicole Else-Quest, a former graduate student in psychology
at the University of Wisconsin. This was an important factor because parents generally are the
dominant influence on child outcomes.
Children were evaluated at the end of the two most widely implemented levels of Montessori
education: primary (3- to 6-year-olds) and elementary (6- to 12-year-olds). They came from
families of very similar income levels (averaging from $20,000 to $50,000 per year for both
The children who attended the Montessori school, and the children who did not, were tested for
their cognitive and academic skills, and for their social and behavioural skills.
"We found significant advantages for the Montessori students in these tests for both age groups,"
Lillard said. "Particularly remarkable are the positive social effects of Montessori education.
Typically the home environment overwhelms all other influences in that area."
Among the 5-year-olds, Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for
elementary school in reading and math skills than the non-Montessori children. They also tested
better on "executive function," the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems,
an indicator of future school and life success.
Montessori children also displayed better abilities on the social and behavioural tests,
demonstrating a greater sense of justice and fairness. And on the playground they were much
more likely to engage in emotionally positive play with peers, and less likely to engage in rough
Among the 12-year-olds from both groups, the Montessori children, in cognitive and academic
measures, produced essays that were rated as "significantly more creative and as using
significantly more sophisticated sentence structures." The Montessori and non-Montessori
students scored similarly on spelling, punctuation and grammar, and there was not much
difference in academic skills related to reading and math. This parity occurred despite the
Montessori children not being regularly tested and graded.
In social and behavioural measures, 12-year-old Montessori students were more likely to choose
"positive assertive responses" for dealing with unpleasant social situations, such as having
someone cut into a line. They also indicated a "greater sense of community" at their school and felt
that students there respected, helped and cared about each other.
The authors concluded that, "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."
Lillard plans to continue the research by tracking the students from both groups over a longer
period of time to determine long-term effects of Montessori versus traditional education. She also
would like to replicate the study at other Montessori and traditional schools using a prospective
design, and to examine whether specific Montessori practices are linked to specific outcomes.
Lillard is the author of "Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius." More information is available
at: http://www.montessori-science.org/. For a copy of the study in the journal Science, call 1-202-
326-6440, or email: scipak@aaas.org.
Fariss Samarrai
Senior News Officer for Science
Office of University Relations
University of Virginia
400 Ray C. Hunt Drive, P.O. Box 400229
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4229
434-924-3778 samarrai@virginia.edu

www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 313 29 SEPTEMBER 2006 189


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