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Riley Institute receives grant to expand study of Montessori education


The Riley Institute at Furman University has been selected to join a research team that will explore how Montessori education can advance the academic and social-emotional development of children.

Funded by a $600,000 grant from the Brady Education Foundation, the five-year study will involve researchers, sites and participants across the U.S. and will follow a randomized sample of children from age three through kindergarten.

Brook Culclasure

“South Carolina has been a leader establishing Montessori programs in public schools, and the Riley Institute’s previous research has shown that children in public Montessori programs show stronger achievement growth and social-emotional outcomes,” said Brooke Culclasure, research director for the Riley Institute at Furman. “This holds true across students’ socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. We are thrilled to collaborate on this second study to explore the potential of Montessori even further.”

Montessori education is unique in that it balances child-directed academic content with an equal emphasis on moral, emotional and behavioral development. Teachers carefully design environments which allow children to be relatively free to explore a variety of hands-on lessons at their own pace based on personal interests within long blocks of uninterrupted time—typically up to three hours.

Earlier this year the Riley Institute released the results of their previous five-year Montessori study, funded by the Self Family Foundation of Greenwood. Participants included students enrolled in public Montessori programs in South Carolina.

“While our earlier study of South Carolina’s public Montessori programs examined many important outcomes, critical questions still remain unanswered,” said David Fleming, a senior researcher at the Riley Institute and professor at Furman.

The new study is one of the largest randomized control trials of its kind, an approach that helps researchers better understand how interventions affect outcomes and is often considered the gold standard for a clinical trial. The study aims to determine if Montessori education is equally effective across racial and ethnic groups, and if it reduces the effects of lower family income. The results are expected to be released by the end of 2022.

Joining the Riley Institute on the research team are the KU Center for Montessori Research and Child Trends in Maryland. Data collection is the primary role of the Institute in the collaborative effort. Joining Culclasure and Fleming on the team are Delia B. Allen, a research assistant at the University of Georgia’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, and Alexis Sprogis, research specialist at the Riley Institute.

For more information on Montessori research at the Riley Institute, visit


About the Riley Institute’s Center for Education Policy and Leadership

Established in 2005, the Center for Education Policy and Leadership (CEPL) is part of the Riley Institute at Furman. CEPL’s work centers on the belief that every child in South Carolina should have access to a quality public education that prepares them for success in the highly competitive knowledge-based economy. The Center works in South Carolina and nationally to promote discussion and understanding of important education issues; to expand research-based, effective education practices; to build leadership capacity among public education supporters and future leaders; and to bring together stakeholders in education, business, politics, and the public to create meaningful and sustainable change on the ground. For more information,

Last updated March 16, 2018
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director