Montessori as a Reading Intervention

Tuesday 1st March 2022

In the recent edition of MontessoriPublic (Fall 2021) David Ayer and Angeline Lillard gave details on the availability of rigorous studies showing reading/writing/language arts outcomes for students in Montessori schools versus other programs to provide 'evidence-based' interventions with students.  Many educational authorities seek this as a requirement for access to programs and funding, for example, in the USA under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Professor Lillard cited the following examples:

In one study (Courtier, P.  et. al., 2021) in Lyons, France, Montessori children unequivocally excelled in reading by the end of the kindergarten, although the sample was small and the Montessori implementation had some concerning limitations (in particular, the teachers were not trained). 

A study (Lillard et al., 2017)  conducted in public Montessori schools in Hartford, CT (with more rigorous implementation)  also showed language arts gains for Montessori children. Results were particularly striking for lower income children as the so-called “achievement gap” was significantly reduced by the end of preschool.

An earlier lottery-design study (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006) in a single Milwaukee public Montessori school, serving mainly African American children, also showed higher reading performance for Montessori students.

For Elementary programs, the same study found that 12-year-olds who had gotten into public Montessori by lottery at age 3 wrote significantly more creative essays, and used significantly more complex sentence structures in those essays, relative to controls.

The large “Riley-Furman Study” (Culclasure, B., Fleming, D. J., & Riga, G. (2018)), involving state tests scores of over 7000 children in South Carolina’s public Montessori network, found that children in Montessori advanced significantly more in reading that the comparison group. 

A more recent study (Snyder, A., Tong, X., & Lillard, A. S. (2021)) examined English Language Arts proficiency levels of public Montessori schools for 3rd and 8th grade. In every analysis (overall, Black students, Hispanic students, Economically-disadvantaged students), controlling for the percent of children at the school on free lunch, disability status, and % marginalized race/ethnicity, at both 3rd and 8th grades, Montessori schools outperformed their districts on ELA proficiency. Achievement gaps by income and Black/White students were consistently smaller in Montessori schools, and 8th grade proficiency controlling for 3rd grade proficiency was consistently greater, suggesting growth across this age span.

There are other studies of public Montessori school reading outcomes, the bulk of which show Montessori language performance outcomes that range from positive to neutral. A forthcoming rigorous meta-analysis will validate this result more concretely.

Two children in a Montessori classroom reading together