I received an email from a Montessori teacher in Wisconsin. She asked me to publish this so that Dr. John King, State Commissioner of Education in New York, understands that the Montessori school to which he sends his own children does not have a philosophy aligned with what he proposes for Other People’s Children.

Dear Diane,
John King keeps on saying that Common Core is a lot like Montessori education. I am an upper-level teacher (1st-6th grade) at a private Montessori school in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I have read the CC standards and researched it. Many of our parents are teachers in the public school district and I discuss CC with them. I am reading your book and I can tell you that Common Core is nothing like the Montessori method. There are many differences, but I’ve limited my explanation to how we view homework and assessment in the Montessori classroom. This is also how I explain the differences to parents.
One of the current trends in education, to increase “academic rigor,” has resulted in elementary students receiving more homework on a daily basis. So why do Montessori students receive very little homework? While many schools and teachers feel pressure to assign daily homework, research shows this is actually causing children more harm than good. The harm includes loss of family time, limiting time for unstructured play and exercise, restricting the time that children have to pursue their own interests and self-learning, and most importantly, it kills off a love of learning. Children need to go outside and play. So what is our goal in Montessori schools? It is to help the parents raise a well-rounded, happy person with a healthy dose of curiosity and an everlasting interest in our world.How do we assess the students in the elementary classroom if we don’t give tests? First, let me clarify a common misconception about tests. In a conventional classroom, many of the assessments that students take are standardized tests. The results of these tests are received months after the test is given and are not used by the teacher to determine lesson planning for each student. Teacher-made-tests provide immediate results that are used for grades, but the results usually do not influence the lesson plans for each individual child. In the upper-level classroom, we continually evaluate the progress of each child through observation and discussion: observation of the written portion of the assignment, observation of the student at work, and discussion of the work with each student. We record the progress of each student, with the goal that the student is working at his or her best potential and has mastered the concepts. In order to achieve that goal, we often need to review, re-explain, alter assignments, or choose a material that will show the concept from a different perspective based on the needs of each individual student.

Maria Montessori said that “Before elaborating any system of education, we must therefore create a favorable environment that will encourage the flowering of a child’s natural gifts. All that is needed is to remove the obstacles.” There are many obstacles which may cause a student to struggle but the most common causes are fear and maturity, two factors that greatly determine a person’s ability or inability to learn but are rarely ever considered as relevant to education. In a Montessori classroom, we try to create an atmosphere where it is safe to make a mistake and trial and error is the norm, thus reducing the amount of fear and anxiety. The varied rates of maturity are reflected in the three year time spans of 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12. Montessori teachers evaluate the work habits that enable lifelong learning, independence, responsibility, and kindness.

On my evaluation form, I also include if the student is working for his or her own enjoyment. I must say that my students love coming to school everyday and it is hard for me to get them to leave at the end of the day. Parents have told me that their first graders are sad when it is the weekend because they can’t go to school. Montessori classrooms create a setting for children that is very natural to them and encourages learning, discovery, and creativity. It highly respects and values each child. That is the education that John King’s children are receiving.

Marianne Giannis