Study finds Montessori schools helps lower-income children

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- New research says a Montessori preschool education helps typically under-performing, low-income students keep pace with their higher-income peers.

Researchers at the University of Virginia helped conduct a study that was just published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The study looked at children who were admitted to public Montessori schools in Hartford, Connecticut and those who were wait-listed and attended public and private schools that did not use Montessori programs.

"We had 71 children in the control group and 70 children in the Montessori group, most of whom were tested at four time periods longitudinally, starting the first semester that they entered preschool," said psychology professor Angeline Lillard.

The researchers were testing several areas, including reading, math, social cognition, persistence and self-regulation over a three-year period.

According to Lillard, the results showed all the children scored equally that first fall and then their scores diverged as time went on.

"If you look at what happened with low-income control children in non-Montessori schools, relative to the other children, they start low and get lower, doing worse over time," she said. "If you look at the low-income Montessori children, they are on the upswing, so that by the fourth evaluation, they are not significantly different from the control high-income sample or the Montessori high-income sample."

Lillard also says the low-income Montessori students would have been truly equal, not just statistically equal, to their high-income counterparts if there had been a fifth evaluation.

The study also found that children in Montessori schools did better overall than children in conventional schools.

To Lillard, these findings are important because education is heralded as the best way to help people born into poverty get out of it, but conventional schooling hasn't provided much help.

"You see the cycle of poverty over and over again," she said. "People who are born into it, stay in it. If we could find a different way to school children that could make a difference, we might be able to make some headway on this age-old problem."

Lillard says the reasons for the effects are complex but could stem from it corresponding to the way people naturally learn and develop.

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