Montessori Research Summary

Montessori Research Summary

Studies in Support of Early-Childhood Montessori


In a 1991 study by Alcillia Clifford and Carol Takacs, graduates of the Montessori Head Start program at the Marotta Montessori Schools of Cleveland who had entered the Cleveland Public Schools (CPS) were studied in relation to their CPS peers. California Achievement Test scores for Marotta graduates in grades one through eight were compared with the overall scores of first- through eighth-graders in the Cleveland Public Schools (mean percentile rankings for grades one through eight). (No math tests were given in 1989.) As these comparisons show, the former Montessori students consistently fared better:



Clifford and Takacs (1993) also found Marotta Montessori graduates far surpassing their CPS peers in eligibility for the gifted program in the Cleveland Public Schools. Overall, in 1991, only about four percent of CPS children qualified for the program by scoring at or above Stanine 7 (75th percentile nationally) on the California Achievement Tests, whereas the following percentages (by grade level in 1991) of Marotta graduates qualified:


Grade One: 33% 
Grade Two: 25% 
Grade Three: 20% 
Grade Four: 50% 
Grade Five: 10% 
Grade Six: 43% 
Grade Seven: 30%


In addition to the Clifford-Takacs work, Dr. Mary Maher Boehnlein (1990) reviewed 244 studies of Montessori pedagogy, including 25 that focused exclusively on children of low socio-economic status (SES). She found these studies to show overall that "low SES children benefited significantly" from Montessori preschool, even if they attended for less than the full three years. For example, in long-range studies by Merle B. Karnes (1969, 1978, 1983), after just one year of Montessori preschool, low-SES children showed "superior performance on measures of autonomy and curiosity" over low-SES children from other preschool programs (cited in Boehnlein, 1990). Karnes also found that although low-SES children from Montessori preschools showed no significant differences from their non-Montessori peers immediately after the preschool program, in later years they exceeded these peers in academic competence and achievement as well as attitude toward school. Moreover, "significantly higher numbers of Montessori children" completed school (cited in Boehnlein, 1990).



Studies in Support of Montessori Elementary Programs


Other studies confirm these results and point toward even better results for low-SES children who attend Montessori programs throughout the preschool and elementary years. For instance, Dr. Tim Duax (1989) studied the 1987 and 1988 graduates of MacDowell School, a Milwaukee public-school Montessori program spanning ages 4 to 11. Of these students, 36% were eligible for the federal hot-lunch program because of low parental income, and 50% were minority. Here are the results of the Duax study:


Acheivement Level Stanine #MacDowell Grads MacDowell % Natl. Norms
High 9 8 9.5% 4%
High 8 9 10% 7%
High 7 21 25% 12%
Mid-range 6 23 27.1% 17%
Mid-range 5 19 22.6% 20%
Mid-range 4 3 3.6% 17%
Low 3 1 1.2% 12%
Low 2 0 0 7%
Low 1 0 0 4%


The standardized-test scores (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) of 84% of MacDowell graduates fell above the 50th percentile, far above national norms.


Nationally, 23% of students scored in the "high achievement" range; of MacDowell graduates, 44.5% scored in that range.


While 23% of their peers nationally scored in the "low achievement" range, only 1.2% of MacDowell graduates scored in that range.


In another study, Duax (1989) asked 27 middle-school teachers in three middle schools to assess 15 randomly-selected graduates of MacDowell in comparison to peers in the same middle school with no Montessori background. (The 15 were chosen to reflect the total graduate population of MacDowell in gender, race, and SES factors.) The teachers gave the Montessori-prepared sample above-average ratings in relation to their peers on each of the 25 characteristics on the survey (such as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, asking provocative questions, and adapting to new situations). The MacDowell sample ranked highest on 5 characteristics: using basic skills, being responsible, showing enthusiasm for class topics, being individualistic, and exhibiting multicultural awareness.


In summary, studies such as those by Takacs, Karnes, and Duax show that Montessori education at both the preschool and elementary levels benefits low-SES children by giving them higher competence in basic skills, a better attitude toward school, and a greater chance of staying in school than their non-Montessori peers possess.




Boehnlein, Mary Maher (1990). Research and evaluation summary of Montessori programs. In David Kahn, ed. Implementing Montessori Education in the Public Sector. Cleveland: North American Montessori Teachers' Association. pp. 476-483.


Clifford, Alcillia Jones, and Carol Takacs (1991). Marotta Montessori Schools of Cleveland follow-up study of urban center pupils. (Unpublished paper, Cleveland State University).


Clifford, Alcillia Jones, and Carol Takacs (1993). Marotta Montessori Schools of Cleveland follow-up study of urban center pupils years 1991 and 1992. (Unpublished paper, Cleveland State University).


Duax, Tim (1989). Preliminary report on the educational effectiveness of a Montessori school in the public sector. The NAMTA Journal, (14)2, 56-62.


Karnes, Merle B. (1969). Research and development program on preschool disadvantaged children.(Contract no. OE 6-10-235). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education.


Karnes, Merle, et al. (1978). Immediate, short-term and long-range effects of five preschool programs for disadvantaged children. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Toronto, Canada. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service no. ED 152 043).


Karnes, Merle, Allan Shwedel, and Mark Williams (1983). A comparison of five approaches for educating young children from low-income homes. In As the twig is bent: lasting effects of preschool programs.Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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