The early years: evaluating montessori

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THE EARLY YEARS: Evaluating Montessori Education Angeline Lillard, et al. Science 313, 1893 (2006); DOI: 10.1126/science.1132362 The following resources related to this article are available online at (this information is current as of December 18, 2006 ): Updated information and services, including high-resolution figures, can be found in the online version of this article at: Supporting Online Material can be found at: This article has been cited by 1 article(s) on the ISI Web of Science. This article appears in the following subject collections: Education Information about obtaining reprints of this article or about obtaining permission to reproduce this article in whole or in part can be found at: Science (print ISSN 0036-8075; online ISSN 1095-9203) is published weekly, except the last week in December, by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005. Copyright c 2005 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science; all rights reserved. The title SCIENCE is a registered trademark of AAAS.
Mean z score Downloaded from on December 18, 2006
THE EARLY YEARS Evaluating Montessori Education
Angeline Lillard1* and Nicole Else-Quest2
An analysis of students' academic and social scores compares a Montessori school with other elementary school education programs.
Montessori education is a 100-yearold method of schooling that was first used with impoverished preschool children in Rome. The program continues to grow in popularity. Estimates indicate that more than 5000 schools in the UNITED STATES--including 300 public schools and some high schools--use the Montessori program. Montessori education is characterized by multi-age classrooms, a special set of educational materials, student-chosen work in long time blocks, collaboration, the absence of grades and tests, and individual and small group instruction in both academic and Social Skills (1). The effectiveness of some of these elements is supported by research on human learning (2). We evaluated the social and academic impact of Montessori education. Children were studied near 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). The Montessori school we studied [located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (3)], which served mainly urban minority children, was in its ninth year of operation and was recognized by the U.S. branch of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI/USA) for its good implementation of Montessori principles (4). Because it was not feasible to randomly assign children to experimental and control educational groups, we designed our study around the school lottery already in place. Both the experimental and the control group had entered the Montessori school lottery; those who were accepted were assigned to the experimental (Montessori) group, and those who were not accepted were assigned to the control (other education systems) group. This strategy addressed the concern that parents who seek to enroll their child in a Montessori school are different from parents who do not. It is crucial to control for 1Department of Psychology, University of Virginia P.O. Box 400400, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA. 2Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53202, USA. *Author for correspondence. E-mail: [email protected]
this potential source of bias, because parents are the dominant influence on child outcomes (5). Recruitment We contacted parents of children who had entered the Montessori school lottery in 1997 and 2003 and invited them to be in the study. All families were offered $100 for participation. Because the lottery, which was conducted by the school district, was random, the Montessori and control groups should contain similar children. Ninety percent of consenting parents filled out a demographic survey. Parents from the Montessori and control groups had similar average incomes ($20,000 to $50,000 per year) at each student age level. This addressed a concern with a retrospective lottery loser design that the final samples might be different for reasons other than the treatment. Another variable, ethnicity, was not surveyed because parent income contributes more to child outcomes than does ethnicity (6). We were also concerned that requesting ethnicity data would reduce participation in this racially divided city. Overall, 53 control and 59 Montessori students were studied (table S1). The 5-year-old group included 25 control and 30 Montessori children, and the 12-year-old group included 28 control and 29 Montessori children. Gender balance was imperfect, but gender 0.4 0.2
­0.4 Montessori
WJ letter-word WJ word attack WJ applied math Card sort (executive function)
False belief (social cognition) Refers to justice Positive shared play Ambiguous rough play
Results for 5-year-olds. Montessori students achieved higher scores [converted to average z scores (18)] for both academic and behavioral tests.
did not contribute significantly to any of the differences reported here. Children at the Montessori school were drawn from all six classrooms at the primary level and all four at the upper elementary level. The control children were at non-Montessori schools: 27 public inner city schools (40 children) and 12 suburban public, private/voucher, or charter schools (13 children). Many of the public schools had enacted special programs, such as gifted and talented curricula, language immersion, arts, and discovery learning. Children in both groups were tested for cognitive/academic and social/behavioral skills that were selected for importance in life, not to examine specific expected effects of Montessori education. Our results revealed significant advantages for the Montessori group over the control group for both age groups. Results: 5-Year-Olds Cognitive/Academic Measures. Seven scales were administered from the Woodcock-Johnson (WJ III) Test Battery (7). Significant differences favoring Montessori 5-year-olds were found on three WJ tests measuring academic skills related to school readiness: Letter-Word Identification, Word Attack (phonological decoding ability), and Applied Problems (math skills) (see chart, left). No difference was expected or found on the Picture Vocabulary test (basic vocabulary) because vocabulary is highly related to family background variables (8). Two WJ tests of basic thinking skills-- Spatial Reasoning and Concept Formation-- also showed no difference. Five-year-olds were also tested on executive function, thought to be important to success in school. On one such test, children were asked to sort cards by one rule, switch to a new rule, and (if they did well) then switch to a compound rule. Montessori children performed significantly better on this test. A test of children's ability to delay gratification (a treat) did not indicate statistically significant differences. Social/Behavioral Measures. Children were given five stories about social problems, such as another child hoarding a swing, and were asked how they would solve each problem (9). SCIENCE VOL 313 29 SEPTEMBER 2006 Published by AAAS
Mean z score Downloaded from on December 18, 2006
Montessori children were significantly more tive assertive response (for example, ver-
likely (43% versus 18% of responses) to use a bally expressing one's hurt feelings to the
higher level of reasoning by referring to justice host). On a questionnaire regarding their
or fairness to convince the other child to relin- feelings about school, Montessori children
quish the object. Observations at the play- indicated having a greater sense of commu-
ground during recess indicated Montessori nity, responding more positively to items
children were significantly more likely to be such as, "Students in my class really care
involved in positive shared peer play and sig- about each other" and "Students in this class
nificantly less likely to be involved in rough treat each other with respect."
play that was ambiguous in intent (such as
wrestling without smiling).
Benefits of Montessori Education
The False Belief task was administered to On several dimensions, children at a public
examine children's understanding of the inner city Montessori school had superior
mind (10). Recognition that people repre- outcomes relative to a sample of Montessori
sent the world in subjective as well as objec- applicants who, because of a random lottery,
tive ways is a landmark achievement in attended other schools. By the end of kinder-
social cognition (11). Social negotiation and garten, the Montessori children performed
discussion about mental states leads to this better on standardized tests of reading and
advance in children (12). Whereas 80% math, engaged in more positive interaction on
(significantly more than chance) of the the playground, and showed more advanced
Montessori 5-year-olds passed, the control social cognition and executive control. They
children were at chance, with 50% passing. also showed more concern for fairness and
justice. At the end of elementary school,
Results: 12-Year-Olds
Montessori children wrote more creative
Cognitive/Academic Measures. Twelve-year- essays with more complex sentence struc-
olds were given 5 minutes to complete a story tures, selected more positive responses to
beginning "____ had the best/worst day at social dilemmas, and reported feeling more
school." The Montessori students' essays were of a sense of community at their school.
rated as significantly more creative and as These findings were obtained with a lottery
using significantly more sophisticated sentence loser design that provides control for parental
structures (see chart, below). Control and influence. Normally parental influence (both
Montessori essays were similar in spelling, genetic and environmental) dominates over
punctuation, and grammar. Unlike the 5-year- influences such as current or past school and
olds, the 12-year-olds did not perform differ- day-care environments. For example, in the
ently on the WJ tests. This is surprising, large National Institute of Child Health and
because early reading skills normally predict human development (NICHD) study of early
later reading (13). Either the control group had child care, correlations between parenting
"caught up" by age 12 to the
Montessori children, or the 12-
quality and WJ early academic tests had Effect Sizes compara-
year-old Montessori children 0.3
ble to those seen here, whereas
were not more advanced in 0.2 these early reading skills when they were 5. If the latter, one 0.1
school effects were much smaller (5). An evaluation of Success for All, considered a highly suc-
possible explanation is that the
cessful reading intervention,
12-year-olds started at the school when it was in its third ­0.1
reported a quarter of a standard deviation as its largest effect
year. The Montessori method ­0.2
size (for Word Attack) in a
relies on peer teaching and modeling, so those who are in the early classes of a new school lack some advantages relative to those who begin later. Social/Behavioral Measures. As a social skills test, 12-yearolds read six stories about social problems (such as not being asked to a party) and were asked to choose among four responses. Montessori
­0.3 ­0.4 Montessori Control Sophisticated sentence structures Creative story Positive social strategies Sense of school as community Results for 12-year-olds. Students in the Montessori program wrote more sophisticated and creative stories and showed a more developed sense of community and social skills. Scores
randomized field trial, and stated that it was equal to a 4.69-month advance in reading skills (14). Stronger effects are often found in the first years of pilot programs when researchers are involved in implementation of their own programs (15), termed the "superrealization effect" (16). In our study, the school did not anticipate an evaluation. Especially
12-year-olds were significantly were converted to average remarkable outcomes of the
more likely to choose the posi- z scores (18).
Montessori education are the
social effects, which are generally dominated by the home environment (17). Future research could improve on the research design here by following lottery participants prospectively and by tracking those who drop out and examining their reasons. It would be useful to replicate these findings in different Montessori schools, which can vary widely. The school involved here was affiliated with AMI/USA, which has a traditional and relatively strict implementation. It would also be useful to know whether certain components of Montessori (e.g., the materials or the opportunities for collaborative work) are associated with particular outcomes. Montessori education has a fundamentally different structure from traditional education. 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. References and Notes 1. M. Montessori, The Montessori Method (Schocken, New York, 1964). 2. A. S. Lillard, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 2005). 3. Milwaukee Public Schools ( 4. Association Montessori Internationale ( 5. NICHD Early Child-Care Research Network, Harvard Ed. Rev. 74, 1 (2004). 6. G. J. Duncan, W. J. Yeung, J. Brooks-Gunn, J. R. Smith, Am. Soc. Rev. 63, 406 (1998). 7. K. S. McGrew, R. W. Woodcock, Woodcock-Johnson III Technical Manual (Riverside Publishing, Itasca, IL, 2001). 8. B. Hart, T. Risley, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (P. H. Brookes, Baltimore, MD, 1995). 9. K. H. Rubin, The Social problem solving Test­Revised (Univ. of Waterloo, Waterloo, MI, 1988). 10. H. Wimmer, J. Perner, Cognition 13, 103 (1983). 11. C. Zimmer, Science 300, 1079 (2003). 12. J. Amsterlaw, H. Wellman, J. Cogn. Dev. 7, 139 (2006). 13. A. E. Cunningham, K. E. Stanovich, Dev. Psych. 33, 934 (1997). 14. G. D. Borman et al., Am. Ed. Res. J. 42, 673 (2005). 15. M. W. Lipsey, Ann. Am. Acad. Polit. Soc. Sci. 587, 69 (2003). 16. L. J. Cronbach et al., Toward Reform of Program Evaluation: Aims, Methods, and Institutional Arrangments (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1980). 17. NICHD Early Child-Care Research Network, Am. Ed. Res. J. 42, 537 (2005). 18. The z-score conversion was used for the graph to give all tests the same metric. A z score sets the mean (in this case of the entire sample) at 0, one standard deviation above the mean at 1.68, and one standard deviation below the mean at ­1.68. 19. Funding was provided by the Jacobs and Cantus Foundations and sabbatical fellowships from the Cattell Foundation and the University of Virginia to A.L. J. DeLoache, B. Detmer, L. Ma, A. Pinkham, R. Tai, and J. van Reet provided helpful comments, and E. Turkheimer provided valuable statistical advice. We thank the Milwaukee schools that participated; the children and their families; and A. Hart, T. Nishida, A. Pinkham, J. van Reet, and B. Rosen. Supporting Online Material 10.1126/science.1132362
29 SEPTEMBER 2006 VOL 313 SCIENCE Published by AAAS

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