Montessori vs. Home Influence

Filed under:Mothering,Priorities — posted by Anwyn on October 2, 2006 @ 9:11 am

A few days ago I speculated about what this quotation meant in an article about a study of the effects of Montessori education. The quote:

Dr Angeline Lillard, from the University of Virginia, who co-led the study, said: ‘We found significant advantages for the Montessori students in these tests for both age groups.

‘Particularly remarkable are the positive social effects of Montessori education. Typically the home environment overwhelms all other influences in that area.’

While I at first thought “home environment overwhelms all other influences” was a nod to homeschooling, I soon decided it probably meant that typically the home influence swallows up school “socialization.” Venomous Kate thought it meant another education researcher throwing off on the parental influence. Turns out, not quite. I emailed Dr. Lillard:

Are you saying that 1) the home environment is typically the best for producing positive social effects (as in homeschooling) but that Montessori is second best to that? or 2) that the home environment, even if the child is not homeschooled, overwhelms whatever socialization influences come from most schools but that Montessori is able to assert its own socialization against the home influence? And if the latter, does it matter whether the home influence is for positive social effects or negative–Montessori training will still assert itself against them both?

Dr. Lillard replied:

The latter is what was meant. Your last question is an important empirical question–we did not examine socializing influences in the homes of the children in this study.

The bottom line is that whether one’s child is in child care or not, you are still the strongest influence on child outcomes.

So the study means that even though home influence is usually dominant over school socialization, Montessori training made a strong stand against the home influence. That seems to remove some of the impact of her last statement, that the parents are still the strongest influence in child outcomes.

The article about the study contains this important nugget:

The Montessori school studied is located in Milwaukee and serves urban minority children. Students at the school were selected for enrollment 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 enrollment in the Montessori school.

“This strategy addressed the concern that parents who seek to enroll 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.

So this study was designed to be blind to the idea of parents who actively seek alternatives to public schools and are thus presumably more enaged in the idea of obtaining certain educational objectives for their children. Studying urban minority children in Montessori school as opposed to urban minority children in “other” schools, presumably at least some public, the nutshell results are: 1) Montessori preschoolers were better prepared for reading and math and more likely to “engage in emotionally positive play with peers, and less likely to engage in rough play.” But in the 12-year-olds tested for the study, although they wrote essays described as “significantly more creative and as using significantly more sophisticated sentence structures,” there was little difference in outcomes for spelling, grammar, punctuation, reading, and math. Apparently, for the 12-year-olds, social behavior was the biggie:

In social and behavioral 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 bottom line for me is that my child will be well prepared for academics whether he goes to preschool or stays home with me until kindergarten. How to find a school that 1) works to your child’s intelligence and academic potential and 2) reinforces, without undercutting, the patterns of behavior and reasoning in social situations that you are trying to teach him at home? The conclusion about Montessori appears to be: Make sure that the behaviors they emphasize and reward at the particular Montessori school you’re considering (and not all are created equal) are the ones you are reinforcing at home, since Montessori training apparently does better than other schools at modifying your child’s social behavior.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace