Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Montessori: An Option for Public School Teachers

Montessori education is on the rise in the public school system. This is good for some who feel caught between the need to boost test scores but also create a place where their students and they feel good coming.

Montessori in the Public Sector reports that of the approximately 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States, about 500 are public schools. Some are charter schools. Others are under the banner of public school districts. They can exist even in states without public charter schools. Washington State has said no to public charter schools on multiple occasions, but some school districts have said yes to Montessori. Seattle Public Schools has three elementary schools that boast Montessori programs.

By becoming a public education movement, Montessori is, in some sense, coming back to its roots. Montessori was not at its inception an elitist movement. In fact, Maria Montessori developed her educational model in a very poor part of Rome. The first students were little ones, aged three to seven, who had not been thought capable of long stretches of self-regulated learning – and for reasons beyond just age. Maria Montessori’s students learned. Her students self-regulated. Her students astounded.

Montessori is an alternative not only to traditional schools but to ones that have higher than average academic performance but rely on regimentation and heavy discipline; a 2016 Teach for America article describes the movement as a reinvention of public schools (

The Montessori Approach

The American Montessori Association, in introducing the model, uses the phrases "freedom within limits" and "sense of order" ( When people walk into a Montessori classroom, they walk into an environment where physical materials are arranged just so. In Montessori classrooms, children use materials in purposeful and close-ended ways. You'll see them spreading out materials on mats, using them to practice specific skills (as taught), putting them back in their precise location after use. A lot of work goes into preparing the environment; a lot of work goes into teaching children how to interact with it.

Traditional Montessori discourages fantasy play among very young children, focusing instead on fostering their connection to, and mastery of, the real world. Some people have even criticized Montessori philosophies for not giving enough attention to the role of pretend play, especially in the pre-primary years. On the other hand, children move about, interact with others, older and younger, and make choices about what they'll use when; they change activities based on their own natural rhythms. The teacher can be seen interacting with one child or a few; the children by and large are directing themselves. They are encouraged to explore their world -- e.g. nature -- in controlled ways that won't impact on others' rights and won't require a lot in the way of re-direction. Learning is personalized. The teacher is trained to observe individuals and how they interact with their environments and learn.

When compared to elementary schools in low-income areas that have sometimes made the news for their high test scores, Montessori can present quite a contrast: less rigidity, less discipline. To a nursery school teacher, Montessori may seem like an especially structured/ academic approach. To an elementary school teacher in an inner city school, Montessori can feel free indeed.

Montessori, as practiced in the modern elementary school isn't identical to that practiced by Maria Montessori in Rome a century ago. There are concessions to the modern educational system -- yes, children have to take standardized tests -- but there are also nicks and tucks to fit evolving ideas about child development. This is an area of caution. Montessori research suggests that schools that are less faithful to the original may produce lower results. However, this may depend on what’s left in and what’s left out. Some are deliberately creating hybrids (

There are some differences between Montessori as articulated by the American Montessori Association and the Association Montessori Internationale.

Montessori Research

South Carolina boasts more public Montessori schools than almost any other state. It also made the news recently for some promising research. Montessori students were outperforming peers on standardized tests. Montessori schools were narrowing achievement gaps (

The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector has provided an annotated list of Montessori research studies ( A 2017 Science of Learning article takes a multi-dimensional look at Montessori effectiveness (

Becoming a Montessori Teacher

Montessori public school teachers generally hold both a state license and a third party Montessori certification. (States vary in their legal mandates for charter schools. In some, educator licensing is not a legal mandate outside of traditional school districts.)

Individual states dictate what must be included in a license-qualifying educator preparation program. It is likely that a Montessori program won't include everything required. Teachers may find that they have more options if they complete a traditional education program and then complete a Montessori program at the graduate level. Teachers can complete Montessori programs while employed in non-Montessori settings.

Some teachers, though, may choose to begin with Montessori and widen their options later. A growing number of states officially recognize Montessori in their regulations. In South Carolina, Montessori can be a stand-alone teaching authorization or an add-on for a teacher who holds general credentialing. In Ohio, a teacher who has recognized Montessori credentials can be authorized for employment in a school with a Montessori program, but he or she will be an alternative credential, valid for a limited time period. The teacher will need to complete an additional program. Most states have alternative programs of sort, even if they are not geared toward Montessori. They have provisions for placing teachers into positions where they’re needed and wanted. However, not all states have equal demand for Montessori-trained teachers. An individual who is beginning his or her career may want to make some inquiries at the state level. Schools can be good resources.


American Montessori Society

Association Montessori Internationale-USA

North American Montessori Teachers’ Association

Montessori Education Programs International