The University of Virginia conducted a variety of studies on academic performance, social skills, behavioral tendencies and psychological norms of Montessori students who were five and twelve years of age. They then did comparable research on non-Montessori school children of the same ages. The study was recently published in the academic journal Science by Dr Angeline Lillard, one of the universitys professors of psychology at their Charlottesville campus. The results of the study lead to surprising headlines on mainstream media sources such as the Guardian in the United Kingdom and CBS in the United States.
In brief, the Montessori Method was developed over nearly four decades by the education and psychology specialist Maria Montessori. Her research and implementation of what is now the Montessori Method started at the beginning of the 20th century and has continued to be implemented in its purist forms and in other cases contextually adapted to meet social and cultural norms. The core principles stay the same regardless of contextualization though. First and foremost, the student is provided a safe and stimulating environment where they are granted the authority to follow their natural instinct to gravitate towards wanting to learn. Teachers guide students through the self-directed learning process and play the role as the facilitator and observer more so than the traditional teacher model. Sharing, fairness and inter-age socialization are encouraged while the system downplays the need for competition and stress in the classroom. Testing and grading is not a standard within the original methodology, but in countries such as the United States, children do complete the national standard exams. The culture of a Montessori school is sharply different than non-Montessori schools but the goal of educating the students is the same. But which is more effective?
Researchers from The University of Virginia found that the five year olds at Montessori schools had better math and reading skills and tested better than those pupils at public and non-Montessori private schools. Even without regular testing (as in public schools), the Montessori students were able to spell, utilize grammar and execute punctuation better. Their socialization and problem solving skills were vastly more developed over their counterparts as well.
Although Montessori twelve year olds scored similarly in math and reading skills on examinations, those who were observed and tested were significantly more creative and sophisticated with their writing skills. But due to the inter-age interaction and methodology of the Montessori school system, children demonstrated a more secure sense of self, and scored much higher on social and behavioral tests.
The research suggests that the Montessori Method is in fact the better education system, but Dr. Lillards main conclusion is that she is looking forward to further researching the topic nationally and potentially internationally to come up with more conclusive evidence.