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Evidence Matters: Making Sense of Montessori

As noted in our previous blog post, the Riley Institute’s Evidence Matters series will focus on a wide range of topics relevant to the field of public education. Today’s post will be the first of a three-part series on public Montessori programs.

While many people think of Montessori as an educational approach primarily offered in private schools, South Carolina leads the nation in the total number of public Montessori programs, with the establishment of the state’s first public Montessori program in the Clarendon 3 school district in the mid-1990s. Primarily housed in Title 1 schools, many of these programs serve large numbers of low-income and minority students.

In Montessori classrooms, students select among carefully designed learning materials and engage with them in self-directed activities, an approach that strives to foster student independence and curiosity. Teachers serve as guides to learners. When it comes to the implementation of innovative programs, many of which come with considerable investment of both time and money, the question on everyone’s minds is, “Is it effective?”. Future blog posts in this series will look at affective, academic, and behavioral outcomes, teacher satisfaction and, importantly, how Montessori impacts children from disadvantaged communities.

Beyond this initial series, we will also return to Montessori-related topics in the future, as the Riley Institute is home to several of the country’s foremost researchers on the Montessori method, Drs. Brooke Culclasure and David Fleming. From 2011-2016, with support from the Self Family Foundation and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, the Riley Institute completed the most comprehensive evaluation of public Montessori ever conducted in the United States. Currently, the Riley Institute team is publishing the results of a multi-state study, funded by the Brady Foundation, that seeks to understand how Montessori impacts students of color and low-income students – questions of great interest in South Carolina and similar states.

Read more about the Riley Institute’s research on Montessori here, and stay tuned to this blog for more on Montessori and other compelling topics in South Carolina public education.

Kelly Gregory is the Riley Institute’s Director for Public Education Partnerships and Projects and previously taught for 11 years in South Carolina public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Special Education. She also holds a National Board certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She can be reached at