Montessori in the United States

Montessori in the United States

This article discusses Montessori in the United States.



After 1907, Dr. Maria Montessori's work spread quickly around the world, soon reaching the USA, where many well-regarded public figures, Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, Mabel, Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson et al., recognized the value of her work with children, and sought to encourage and collaborate with her.[1][2]

A wide brick building with dormer windows projecting from its roof and a white wooden wing on the left, seen from slightly downhill
The Edward Harden Mansion in Sleepy Hollow, NY, home to the first U.S. Montessori school in 1911. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1911, innovative educators founded the Modern School Movement, establishing schools using Montessori methods and equipment. In New York City, the Ferrer Center, a Modern School, founded by Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, and others, was one of the first to adopt the Montessori method. In 1912, Dr. Montessori spoke to a standing-room-only audience at Carnegie Hall, in New York City. By 1915, she had been invited to participate in the Pan-Pacific World's Fair in San Francisco, celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. There, she had set up a fully functioning classroom for display to the attending.[3]

This early American enthusiasm for Montessori was short-lived, after the 1914 publication of The Montessori System Examined, a harshly critical booklet by William Heard Kilpatrick, an advocate of John Dewey's theories of education; by 1920, Montessori schools had virtually disappeared from the US.[citation needed] The Montessori-method school resurgence did not occur until after 1960, when Nancy McCormick Rambusch and Margaret Stephenson, who each had worked with Montessori in Europe, separately went to the US.

In 1960, Rambusch organized the American Montessori Society (AMS) to Americanize the Montessori method to make it relevant to the popular culture of the day.[4] In 1958, the Whitby School was founded in Greenwich, Connecticut as the first Montessori school in the US, followed in 1962 by the Caedmon School in New York City. In 1961, Mario Montessori, head of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), sent Stephenson as his personal representative to the United States, and was later given his permission to set up a branch office of AMI in the United States, which was established in 1970.[5]

In 1967, a trademark dispute arose over the use of the term "Montessori" between AMS and AMI. This conflict was finally settled by the US Patent and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in its action to refuse to grant exclusive use of the term "Montessori" to any one particular "Montessori" organization, holding that "the term 'Montessori' has a generic and/or descriptive significance."[6]

Disputes over what is a Montessori school have been a continuing aspect of the history of Montessori education, arising especially around the various competing philosophies and interests involved in representing the Montessori method. Despite these conflicts, there are currently more than 5,000 schools identified in some way with the Montessori Method.

Montessori schools

Daycroft Montessori School Scio Township, Michigan

Because there is no single registry or even uniform definition of what constitutes a Montessori school, there is some dispute as to the number of private Montessori schools in the United States. Estimates range from just under 4,000 to greater than 8,000. There are about 250 public and 120 charter schools that include Montessori programs (see below). Most private schools have a primary program (from 3–6 years) and often a lower elementary (6–9 years). Upper elementary programs (9–12 years) are less common, although about one school in eight will have this program. At this time Montessori junior highs and high schools are rare. However, the first public Montessori high school in the country, Clark Montessori located in Cincinnati, Ohio, was started in 1994. Several pilot Montessori junior high schools have opened based on writings by Montessori on Erdkinder, German for "children of the land", which was a term Montessori coined for children ages 12 through 18. The last few years have seen the advent of infant and toddler Montessori programs. Many schools offer "mother and child" programs in which parents can learn about Montessori and how to apply the philosophy to their child-rearing practices. In many other schools, the demand for high-quality childcare has spurred the growth of Montessori infant, or "nido" (the Italian word for "nest") and toddler, or "infant community" programs.

The Montessori community has no central authority. Although the American Montessori Society (AMS), located in New York City, is by far the largest Montessori organization in the United States, it affiliates only about 25 percent of the schools that call themselves “Montessori.” Many other schools across the country are affiliated with other Montessori organizations or with no organization at all.

Accreditation and quality standards for Montessori teacher education are provided through the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education Commission located in Racine, Wisconsin. MACTE is the only entity in the United States licensed to accredit teacher programs for Montessori across all philosophical styles by the US Department of Education. Non-MACTE accredited programs cannot be considered diploma programs or trade schools, and holders of certifications from those training centers are not eligible to teach in most Montessori schools (other than those accredited by the training centers themselves). For Montessori schools, various organizations provide quality standards through affiliation, recognition, or membership according to their own particular philosophy, procedures and requirements.[7]

Montessori in the home

In the 1960s, a growing homeschool movement arose in the United States, due to parental concern about the quality and nature of the government system of free public schools. By 2003, the number of homeschooling children in the United States rose to over 1 million, an increase of some 29% from 1999.[8] In this growing context, parents have been seeking to use the Montessori Method as well. For example, Elizabeth Hainstock, a homeschooling mother in the United States, used the Montessori method with her own children in the 1960s, and wrote about her experiences and knowledge on the subject in several books to guide other parents interested in using the Montessori method at home.[9] No reliable figure exists of the number of homeschoolers using materials or methods borrowed from Montessori.

Montessori programs in public schools

Public school districts in the U.S. began experimenting with Montessori classrooms in the mid 1970s in Arlington, Virginia, Philadelphia and Reading, Ohio. By the mid-80s there were about 50 sites. With funding support from federal magnet grants and desegregation efforts, that number surpassed 200 by the beginning of the 21st century.

A survey conducted in 1981, collected data from 25 of the approximately 57 school districts nationwide known to have Montessori programs at the time of this study.[10] The only other study of public Montessori programs is much more recent. During school year 1990-91, this study received responses from 63 of the 120 school districts or schools to whom surveys were sent.[11] Results from this study indicate that the number of students in the schools or school districts averaged 233, with an average of 10 teachers per program. A total of 32, or 58%, of the schools surveyed reported that they were magnet schools. A total of 69% of the Montessori programs shared a building with other programs. District funding for the training of Montessori teachers was provided in 66% of the districts. Only 42% of the programs provided the three-year age span of three-, four-, and five-year-olds. This indicates that the degree to which particular districts implement the Montessori model varies.

A total of 16 of the 57 schools charged tuition for some part of the program. About two thirds of the programs provided free transportation. In addition, two thirds of the districts reported that additional staff were used in the Montessori magnet schools. These factors can add to the overall costs of the program.

A survey in 2004 by Heather Bilton for her dissertation found that in public Montessori schools: • About half the students receive free or reduced price lunch • Most principals do not have Montessori training • A bit more than half of the teachers have Montessori credentials • Most have chosen to use materials that are not "Montessori" [12]

In January 2007, The Washington Post published an article titled "Montessori, Now 100, Goes Mainstream".[13] The article discussed the increasing number of Montessori public school programs, particularly in African American communities.

Once a maverick experiment that appealed only to middle-class white families, Montessori schools have become popular with some black professionals and are getting results in low income public schools with the kind of children on which Montessori first tested her ideas.

The article goes on to discuss how Montessori has been implemented in the public schools, and has become an attractive option to black, middle class parents because it provides an alternative to the "No Child Left Behind" strategies in most current public school curricula.

See also


  1. ^ Maria Montessori: A Biography p.165, by Rita Kramer, Perseus Books, 1988
  2. ^ Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E.M. Standing, p. 63, Plume, revised ed. 1998
  3. ^ Maria Montessori: A Biography p.212-13, by Rita Kramer, Perseus Books, 1988
  4. ^ The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to the Woman, the Writing, the Method, and the Movement. p. 117 Elizabeth G. Hainstock, 1997
  5. ^ In Memoriam, Margaret E. (Betty) Stephenson (1915-2003), Montessori Life, October, 2003
  6. ^ American Montessori Society, Inc. v. Association Montessori Internationale, 155 U.S.P.Q. 591, 592 (1967)
  7. ^ 2008 Montessori Community Resource, p.16, Jola Publications,
  8. ^ Homeschooling in the United States: 2003 – Executive Summary
  9. ^ Teaching Montessori in the Home Elizabeth G. Hainstock, first edition, 1967; Plume, 1997
  10. ^ Chattin-McNichols, 1981
  11. ^ Michlesen and Cummings, 1991
  12. ^ Heather Bilton (2004). Characteristics of Public Montessori Programs in the United States. 
  13. ^ Mathews, J: "Montessori, Now 100, Goes Mainstream", The Washington Post January 2, 2007, B1

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