Christopher M. Glenn, Ph.D.
THE LONGITUDINAL ASSESSMENT STUDY (LAS)The LAS was an 18 year study to follow elementary aged Montessori children into adulthood. Assessments were conducted once every three years, totalling six assessments (cycles). Below are summaries of each cycle.
The Extended Summary of the final 18-year report (Cycle 6) is presented first. This extended summary was written as an open letter to prospective parents. Summaries from Cycle 1 through Cycle 5 follow. Other research projects are summarized below the LAS.
Cycle 6, Spring, 2003.
[The online survey can be viewed at LAS Cycle 6 Survey.]
Dear Prospective Montessori Parent,
This open letter summarizes findings from FMES’s 18 year Longitudinal Assessment Study (LAS) which assessed the effects of a Montessori education into adulthood. Many parents wonder if this alternative educational approach will prepare their children for high school, college, and the job world.
There were two premises. We proposed that students with more years of Montessori education (MEY) would possess to a higher degree those qualities which are emphasized in the Montessori teaching environment, such characteristics as lifelong learning, self-control and self-direction, personal growth, spontaneity, creativity, and the like. Our more modest proposal was that students with any Montessori education will be as successful as students who were more traditionally educated. The former premise can be summarized as “Montessori helps,” and the latter could say, “Montessori does not harm.”
Across the 18 years, six assessments were conducted. The first 4 involved extensive assessment of parents and teachers (using surveys), and students (using surveys, personality tests, and achievement test scores), and as the LAS students aged, the latter two assessments focused on student surveys using mostly open-ended questions in order to assess underlying feelings and beliefs. We refer to the first 4 assessments as primarily quantitative (statistics from numbers), while the latter 2 were qualitative (analysis of written comments).
From the first four quantitative assessments, we concluded that:
After 18 years, were the 44 remaining LAS participants (average age 22, range 17-28 years) inherently different from the maximum of 145 students in the third assessment? We added new participants for the first 3 assessments. We were surprised to find very few differences. There were no differences in achievement test scores. The other measures suggested that the final LAS participants may have had better work habits, including personality aspects that would promote such habits. We could surmise from this that the final LAS people may have placed more value on intellectual and personal growth than LAS dropouts, and that their open-ended responses could have been slanted a little towards the positive.
From the latter two qualitative assessments, we identified one trend related to number of Montessori education years. Participants with 10 or more MEY (half of our sample which ranged from 4 to 16 MEY) were more specific in their answers and were better able to describe in writing how their Montessori education made them who they are today.
In analyzing the content of the open ended questions, participants attributed these beliefs, traits, and behaviors of their current life style to their Montessori education:
Academically, they favored:
Personality preferences included:
Negative effects included:
We didn't totally ignore quantitative questions. Only 2 participants were not planning on getting a college degree, and 34 (77%) were planning to attend graduate school. When participants were asked how much effect their Montessori education had on who they are today (1=no effect to 5=strong effect), the mean was 4.05, and three-fourths chose values of 4 or 5. We asked participants if they thought their parents made the wrong (=1) or right (=10) decision to send them to a Montessori school, and the mean was a high 8.11, with half choosing values of 9 or 10, and only 5 participants chose values of 5 or less.
Addressing the two premises above, MEY appears to have had a subtle effect on the student, and these effects are consistent with Montessori philosophy. Further, Montessori rarely hurts the student in the short term (high school) or long term (college and beyond).
We presented a major conclusion in an article published in 1993* which summarized 13 studies at FMES since 1984. Families who have personal philosophies of life that are consistent with Montessori philosophy will be more satisfied with and gain more benefit from their FMES experience, now and (for the student) into adulthood. The LAS results are in agreement with this conclusion. Former FMES students who are now adults have clearly integrated many key aspects of Montessori philosophy into their lives and life styles. Probably, most of these students came from households that already had similar values; their Montessori education reinforced and further developed these beliefs.
It appeared that, regardless of number of Montessori education years, participants were more appreciative of (or better able to express their appreciation for) their Montessori experience as adults than as adolescents.
*Glenn, C.M. (1993). Market research at a Montessori school: Reasons for choosing, staying, and leaving, Montessori Life, 5, 13-14.
Cycle 1, Spring, 1987. [Not available for distribution.] The Longitudinal Assessment Study (LAS), FMES's flagship research project, was initiated in 1986 in order to assess the affects of a Montessori education on children into adulthood. The study was designed to last 18 years so that participants could be assessed through the school years and could include participants' adjustment related to family and career. Participants are assessed once every three years (one Montessori cycle). The LAS grew out of the need to establish valid and reliable outcome research as related to elementary and above education. The primary hypothesis related to the LAS was that the number of Montessori Education Years (MEY) would be positively related to those qualities which are emphasized in the Montessori teaching environment. A secondary hypothesis was that participants with any Montessori education would be as successful as the general population.
Cycle one included a public school comparison group. Key findings indicated that there was little difference between groups in terms of the academics, study and work habits. The Montessori group had a slight edge in creativity, while the comparison group may have had a slight edge in social competency. There were no significant differences in coordination and movement, speech clarity and projection, ability to handle stress, to think before speaking, to enjoy life, self confidence and self image, spontaneity, consciousness of one's emerging sexuality, and spiritual awareness. The comparison group appeared to do better in task oriented measures, such as persistence, eagerness to continue, ability to concentrate when working alone, producing a finished product, including self- expression in work where appropriate, and seeing work as a form of responsibility. In terms of the personality assessment, there were few differences between the groups, all scoring in the normal, healthy, range. However, the comparison group children scored as calmer and less easily upset, while the Montessori children scored as more guarded, critical of others, and less freely expressive.
More than anything else, these results (taken in light of subsequent LAS assessments) illustrate the difficulty of identifying what is it to be (or not to be) Montessori. This was a pre-computer project and is unavailable for distribution.
Cycle 2, Spring, 1990. [Not available for distribution.] Three years after Cycle 1, Cycle 2 re-assessed the Montessori sample and invited new families to ensure adequate sample size over the 18 years. Overall, LAS students were reported as doing well, both the ones still at FMES and the ones who have moved on to other educational environments. Group averages showed that nearly all variables scored near or above the mid-point on all administered items. Also of interest was that age was more related to development of skills and personality traits than was number of Montessori education years.
Cycle 3, Spring, 1993. Three years after Cycle 2, Cycle 3 re-assessed the Montessori sample and invited additional new families as well. For all variables, results for all sub-groups of the LAS population fell in the range which was best described as normal or healthy. In fact, achievement test results were above national norms on all scales. The secondary hypothesis of no negative difference from the general population was supported.
The number of Montessori education years (MEY), age, and participation status (currently Montessori enrolled or enrolled in other schools) were all inter-related. After appropriate statistical controls, MEY was positively related to ease of discussion of school day with parent and negatively related to number of minutes of chores done per week. Age was positively related to time spent on chores, negatively related to ease of discussion of school day with parent, and positively related to teacher rated ability to cooperate with peers. Current (usually public or private Christian school) teachers of former Montessori students rated the LAS participant (as compared to classmates) as better able to work alone, finish a product, handle stress, and they offered a higher overall academic rating than did the current Montessori teachers' ratings of LAS students. Achievement test complete battery mean was at the 68th national percentile. Many teacher reported variables had higher mean scores for females. Personality measure results showed remarkably normal and healthy participants. Considering participants who have been assessed all three times over seven years and remain in a Montessori environment (n=20), some changes in support of the primary hypothesis were noted. Teacher rated abilities to cooperate with peers and teachers, to handle stress, and overall social rating increased, and participant rated feelings about school increased as well.
Citing previous FMES research showing that parents with philosophies of living compatible with Montessori theory were more likely to allow their children to continue in Montessori past the lower elementary level, it was suggested that direct assessment of participant philosophy over time would show movement in a Montessori-compatible direction. A tertiary hypothesis was suggested, that the number of MEY will be positively related to those qualities of philosophy which are emphasized in the Montessori method. Future assessments will add a qualitative assessment of participant philosophy.
Cycle 4, Spring, 1996. At this 10 year follow-up, for all variables, results for all sub-groups of the LAS population fell in the range which was best described as normal or healthy. In fact, achievement test results were above national norms on all scales, and non-Montessori teachers rated their (former Franciscan Montessori Earth School or FMES) students as performing better and behaving with more maturity than other class members. The secondary hypothesis of no negative difference from the general population was strongly supported. While MEY did not relate to outcome, participants still at FMES, as well as those no longer at FMES, reported in their own words very positive and long term effects of their Montessori experience.
Cycle 5, Spring, 1999. At this 13 year follow-up, the average age of participants is 18 years. An online survey was used (http://www.glennresearch.com/fm-las5.html). Questions focused on underlying psychological, social, and vocational issues.
Tempered by the likely drop-out sample bias, there was considerable support for the primary hypothesis, in two related areas: Lifelong learning and self-development.
The personal value of lifelong learning was identified as most prevalent among the Many Montessori Education Years (MEY) group and focused on direct experiential (hands-on) learning, one-on-one learning (and peer teaching), self-direction and control, and travel.
The striving for self-development was manifest by a strong desire for self-understanding, general personality development, self-direction and discipline, and a strong positive attitude towards social-interactive activities.
There was some evidence suggesting that participants with Many and Few MEY were more similar in more strongly striving for lifelong learning and self-development, as compared to participants with Some MEY, but it is unsure why this would be true. One hypothesis could be that participants with Few MEY left FMES not due to philosophical reasons but rather financial reasons, while participants with Some MEY may have been more likely to leave due to philosophical differences. Another possibility is that, among LAS participants with Few MEY, the motivation to continue in the LAS was higher among participants who were naturally more Montessori-like.
These alternate explanations suggest that the number of Montessori education years may not be the key, but rather the most important factor could be a natural predisposition (learned from parents during childhood) towards a Montessori-compatible life style.
Results from a comparison sample of Junior high aged Montessori students from other schools, and some non-LAS members at the Earth School, suggested another hypothesis: It is possible that the effects of a Montessori education (on personality and lifestyle) may not appear until high school or even college. While we can not control for developing written language skills, it is possible that the underlying pro-Montessori personality and lifestyle were less developed among junior high aged students and were overshadowed by more general human adolescent issues.
Expectations, Spring, 1995. What would be your expectations of a person who has completed 15 years of Montessori education (preschool through high school) and is now 35 to 40 years of age? The sample consisted of 51 middle school Montessori guides and were drawn from FMES staff, attendees at an annual NAMTA Middle School Conference, and all schools identified in the NAMTA Directory as teaching children age 12 and over. Questions were mostly open-ended and were content analyzed. Three response categories stood above the others: Self-actualization, self-motivation, and respect for life. Three additional response categories stood out: Helping others, life-long learning, and works well with others. Problem-solving capacity and global awareness were moderate standouts.
Three-Year Follow-Up, February, 1989. Families who had attended the Montessori School for three or more years and were no longer at the school were assessed. Overall for parent's perceptions of their child's school related adjustment, there appeared to be good adjustment in all areas. However, relatively less well adjusted areas included attitude towards school and study & work habits. Little change was noted in achievement. Feelings about school and school based social skills showed initial declines, and only a portion of these declines had been recouped.
Non-Returning Families, Spring, 1989. Assessed families who did not return from one school year to the next. In terms of overall satisfaction, Children's House parents were less satisfied overall with their Montessori school experience than were either lower or upper elementary parents. Administration related reasons focused on a perceived inflexibility within administration. Teacher/classroom related reasons focused on parent-teacher communication. Financially related reasons focused on cost of tuition. Program related reasons included a concern over whether the protected Montessori School environment was adequately preparing children for a competitive and pressure filled 'real world' and on inconsistent rule enforcement and misunderstandings on the part of parents.
Children's House Moving Up (CHUP) Survey, Spring, 1991. Surveys were telephone administered (with a 100% response rate) to assess differences between families staying versus leaving the Earth School for their childs' elementary education. Stayers tended to have a stronger commitment to elements consistent with Montessori philosophy, including individualized, hands-on education, a preference for parent-child interaction activities, and parental involvement in their child's education. A strong advertising component was included.
Retention of Older Students (ROOST), Spring, 2000. A combination of online self-administered and online telephone-administered surveys assessed 83% of parents of upper elementary (grade 4) through high school students, along with 90% of students in grades 7 through 11, using mostly open-ended questions. Primary considerations in the decision to stay or leave were cost, emphasis on (and a near-equal balance between) academic performance and social development, quality teachers with low turnover rate, and the student's desires. Montessori philosophy became less important with older students. Half of parents said their child has a major influence in the decision to stay or leave. The primary reason for students wanting to leave is a desire for a larger social peer group.
Retention of Older Students (ROOST), Spring, 1992. Two focus groups were conducted, one with a combination of former and current students, and one with a combination of former and current parents. Parents and students were quite consistent in their reasons for staying and leaving. Families leave primarily due to a lack of social diversity, but also due to insufficient extra-curricular and sports activities. Parents mentioned academic diversity more often than students, and students emphasized the social diversity more so than did parents. Financial considerations were occasionally mentioned by both groups. Both groups agreed that, at the Junior High level, the decision to leave is made primarily by the student. The most noteworthy conclusion to be made was that it may be that there is a certain type of student who would be inherently more likely to stay, although parents reached consensus on this issue more readily than did the students. Qualities of stayers could include a preference for an alternative educational approach, adaptability, being a pioneer, self-confidence, self-direction, and a preference for a small group of close friends rather than a larger group of less close friends (quality over quantity). Also identified as important was a positive bonding relationship with the guide and not being picked on by other students.