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The Common Core and Montessori

Article reposted with permission from MontessoriRocks.org

As the administrator of a public Montessori charter school, I can’t even begin to explain the excitement on a parent’s face when I tell them that at our school their child can receive a Montessori education for free. I explain to them how a charter school receives funding much like any other public school. They shake their head in agreement and then slowly I see a realization come across their face and then they exclaim, “Does that mean you follow the Common Core!?”

Over the last few years, there has been much controversy over the Common Core State Standards and standardized tests. Many parents have moved their children to private school in avoidance of these modern-day aspects of today’s education. As a Montessori, many parents think we too are exempt from the Common Core and state tests. With confidence, I can say aloud, “I like the Common Core and honestly, it works well for us”. Why? Montessori education naturally takes learning to a much deeper level than the Common Core does anyway. Montessori done right is already better than the Common Core.

Why the Common Core State Standards work in a Montessori School:

  • Rigor: The Common Core goes beyond memorization or basic understanding. It requires the child to apply their knowledge to solve problems. Montessori has always been an avenue for gaining more in-depth knowledge. Our students experience the skill using hands-on materials. Our evaluation of mastery goes beyond guessing the right answer on a test; we require that a child can truly show us the skill.
  • Exposure over long periods of time: Previously, state standards required that educators present a topic, have the students practice the skill, and then take an assessment. Once the child showed mastery, the discussion was over and the class moved on to a new standard. The Common Core is different. It is cyclical, so most skills are covered multiple times in multiple ways through multiple topics. The standard becomes more relevant. In Montessori, we teach a skill over multiple years using various materials. Practice is our anthem and we give the child every opportunity to practice, practice, practice until mastery –and then practice some more. The skill becomes so familiar, so natural, that they can apply it when needed.
  • What’s not worth learning? I have yet to come across a Common Core State Standard that looks like an overall waste of time. As educators, we determine the teaching method and how much the skill is going to be presented. The Common Core is not a curriculum and thus gives us the freedom to teach in our own way with just the right amount of emphasis. In Montessori, we follow the child’s interests. There isn’t a skill or topic in the world we would ever present to the child as “unimportant”.  Montessori creates fertile ground for a child’s interests to develop and for their horizons to be expanded.  Common Core simply introduces new concepts and skills that may actually be what the child becomes passionate about for their future.
  • Equalizes education: By using the Common Core, I know that if my students moved to another state or another public school, they’d be right where they should be, if not advanced. When our 8th grade students transition to a traditional public school for high school, I can say with confidence that our 8th grade students are prepared and were taught everything any other public 8th grader would be taught. From personal experiences, I know how frustrating it is for a student to move schools and to be completely lost or bored because there is no commonality between schools or states. I lived in four different states in elementary and middle school. Each time we moved, I was presented with the dilemma of being way ahead of the new school or way behind. The Common Core provides us a common list of standards so we have similar expectations regardless of our state or school.

At the end of the day, the Common Core is a political issue and I’m truly not interested in going there. No system is perfect and I’m sure the Common Core will be tweaked for years to come. All I can say is how incredibly lucky our kids are to receive a free Montessori education and if that means we need to follow a set of standards or take a standardized test, I’m in. Montessori creates such passionate, creative, free- thinking lifelong learners that no political agenda or set of standards can truly hold back.