Researching Montessori

25 Dec

*This blog post will be updated regularly as I look more Montessori education result related studies. All studies looked at here are papers that are free for public download.

** Even though my current viewpoint is pro-Montessori, I am still keen to use this post to explore the quantifiable evidence of Montessori effects. I will be disqualifying some research results based on what I understand is important for evaluation, or methodology issues (I will try not to include studies that have methodology issues***, as it takes up too much room to mention, and my aim is not to elucidate what counts as sound methodology.) I hope to predominately use studies conducted in the past 2 decades, as it is a more relevant comparison to the standard public education environment that we have today. 

***Here I draw on my training from the Researching Epidemiology, Experimental Design, and Reading Paper courses in Kaohsiung Medical University.

Recently I have become interested in understanding more about the Montessori method. A book I am reading so far is “Montessori: The Science behind the Genius” by Angeline Lillard, which appealed to me because it looks at research on how Montessori theories match our current understanding of childhood development and optimal outcome. My husband and I also find the Montessori theories, in the broadest sense, tie in with our own experiences of methods that worked or didn’t work for us growing up, and what we hope for our child(ren). Though it has won us over in basic theories, I would like to explore the quantifiable effects of Montessori education by looking at recent studies done on it (and possibly also other alternative education systems) to increase surety that it is the best system out there for our ideals. I hope that we will also have the option in the future to put a 2nd child into the Steiner (Waldorf) method since birth to understand the difference it has on two different children (albeit the sample is so small it will be insignificant for study).

But moving on!

1. Our first paper I’d like to look at here is a 2006 study by Lillard and Else-Quest titled The Early Years: Evaluating Montessori Education. As a pro-Montessori person who wrote the above book, it would not be unexpected if she is strongly biased. However, while the researchers maintain a pro-Montessori tone throughout the paper, the fact that they are published in the Science magazine is some indication of sound methodology.


Mainly urban minority children near the end of the two levels of education: primary (3- to 6-year-olds) and elementary (6- to 12-year-olds) — 6 and 12 year olds whose parents entered the lottery for a Montessori school:

  • Experiment: 59 attending a Montessori school recognized by the AMI/USA
  • Control: 53 attending other schools in the area

90% of parents requested consented to participate.


Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 1.30.51 PM Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 1.30.29 PM


I particularly enjoy that this paper tested for social skills, including positive social strategies. I understand that in most studies done in the past it is found family life is a better indicator of future success than school environment. If a school system can make a difference in that respect, then I believe it is a worthy social investment that goes beyond merely being a daycare for children while their parents are occupied throughout the day.

You can find the link to the paper here:

The full text is free through here: 

I also found this comment and reply very interesting and informative:

2. The second paper is a 2005 study published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education, by Christopher Lopata, Nancy V. Wallace and Kristin V. Finn, titled Comparison of Education Achievement Between Montessori and Traditional Education Programs.


543 4th and 8th grade students attending the below variety of schools,  comparing Math and Language Arts scores of TerraNova (McGraw Hill, 2002), :

  • public Montessori
  • Structured Magnet
  • Open Magnet
  • Tradition Non-Magnet


No significant difference was found overall.


The authors here assert that it is necessary to use quantifiable data to study the effectiveness of Montessori education. While I agree with the use of quantifiable data, the fact that the researchers chose to use standardized tests, which I assume that current non-Montessori schools (the other schools listed in this study) train their children to do, makes it an inadequate study in my opinion. At the end of this, it comes down to whether it is possible for the academic field to agree whether academic skills equate standardized test results, or standardized test results just equal standardized test results. I find the fact that it is possible to train for standardized test results, which does not usually equate a better capacity to problem solve in a broader life context, makes it obsolete as the quantifying standard.

Besides this, I understand that what the Montessori method means by academic skills is more an abiding interest in self-learning, and the ability to concentrate/conduct research. This is, sadly, unquantifiable unless one is willing to expend greater experimental resource on having the children write a paper on the same topic, then blind grade the papers, controlling for grading fatigue and subjectiveness (the more graders, the better)…etc. And it will always be suspect because it is not pure numbers.

You can find the link to the paper here:

Other articles I have enjoyed

Here a Montessori teacher since 2007 talks about the effect Montessori has on her child, comparing with a quality public school.

The question I have at the moment is that, why are most of the pro-Montessori resources/testimonials I find on Montessori relevant sites?

I welcome relevant comments and ideas.


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