Because Montessori schools are often associated with progressive suburbanites and well-to-do private schools, many people don’t know that Dr. Maria Montessori originally developed her pedagogical approach while running a school for some of the poorest children in Rome. Unfortunately, with the exception of some Montessori magnet schools created as part of desegregation initiatives in the 1960s and 1970s, the Montessori model has been largely relegated to the arena of private schools since it arrived in the United States over 100 years ago. Over the last 20 years, however, the spread of public school choice and charter schools has led to a rapid growth in the number of public Montessori schools.
Only about 500 of the approximately 5,000 Montessori programs in the U.S. are located within public schools. The spread of public school choice has expanded the number of public Montessori programs, from about 130 at the end of the 1980s to around 500 in 2015. Public school choice and charters have allowed the Montessori model to return to its roots of educating low-income students. And because the Montessori model has historically been popular with middle-class families, many districts and public charter school leaders have been using it as a means to create economically and racially integrated public schools. However, as the demand for the model continues to increase, some of these leaders struggle with ensuring that public Montessori schools are serving the children most in need of high quality and different educational options.
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