Supporting Montessori in the Public Sector
It's been almost fifty years since the rapid expansion of Montessori education brought this method to the public sector, and today, there are more than 500 public Montessori schools in the US alone. Strong, healthy Montessori schools in the public sector can provide a developmentally-appropriate, child-centered and individualized education to some of our most underserved learners, and offer great promise for changing the landscape of educational equity across the country. Public Montessori Schools are free, allowing children whose families may not otherwise know about Montessori or be able to afford tuition nonetheless to benefit. And, if Montessori schools in the public sector are successful and well-supported, they expand the good will in communities toward Montessori in general.
But Montessori in the public sector brings its own challenges, unique from those that affect private Montessori schools. Policy and standardization demands often conflict with the child-centered, individually paced nature of the Method. This is not a curriculum that can be segmented into six week windows and, while Montessori teachers may understand that children's progress through the material sequence may vary widely from child to child, the schedules of standardized tests are less flexible to individual children's development. It takes a leap of faith for local policymakers to give Montessori schools the autonomy to implement the Method consistently. And because Montessori classrooms cross grade levels, the policy demands for individual grade expectations can be muddied in multi-age environments, especially in districts that separate Pre-K from Kindergarten or begin Middle School at 5th grade instead of 7th. Montessori teacher training can be expensive and time-intensive, and often Montessori public schools struggle to find trained teachers. The classrooms themselves are also costly to prepare, with a full complement of Montessori materials running in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single classroom.
So, what's a good Montessorian to do? First, know that whether you are connected to a public Montessori school or private Montessori school, public Montessori programs need your support. Locally, engage your school board or other policy-makers to let them know you support Montessori education and that you want to see public Montessori schools offered the autonomy to implement the programs faithfully. Nationally, get involved with public Montessori advocacy groups, like the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector
or the good folks at Montessori for Social Justice. Personally, join the PTA at your local public Montessori school. If you're teaching in a private school, invite teachers from local public schools to your in-service trainings. Initiate teacher observation swaps to offer feedback and fellowship among practicing teachers. Audit your supplies to see what surplus materials you may have to share, or partner with a local public Montessori school to share resources for teacher or parent education. Write letters to the editor defending the benefits of public Montessori education, and show up to school board meetings when curriculum or budgets are on the agenda.
Great examples exist nationwide for public-private Montessori school partnerships, but know, too, that the personal, face-to-face support is invaluable for teachers who are committed to providing Montessori education within a public sector that may be working against the method. Don't underestimate the value of developing local professional networks for social time, professional education and networking among Montessorians in your community- public or private. As long as there are children in your community, there will be space for both public and private Montessori schools. And although the public classrooms you visit may struggle against policy mandates that private school Montessori teachers are free to ignore, the teachers there are nonetheless working to offer Montessori to as many children as possible and the children and families need good Montessori experiences just as much as children and families in the private sector. Be their cheerleaders. Be their sounding boards. Be their supports. Whether there is a public Montessori school in your neighborhood, the teachers and families who have committed to Montessori in the public sector need the support and investment of those Montessorians with the means to offer the method in private schools. Don't worry about whether they're "Montessori enough." Instead, help them, in the investment of your time, your rhetoric and your wallets, to bring as much Montessori as possible to as many children as we can.