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Montessori and the CCSS or Montessori vs. the CCSS?

By Gwen Mak, CEI Intern. Through its 100-year history, Montessori has remained on the sidelines of mainstream education in the United States (Whitescarver & Cossentino, 2008).  Though it was scientifically developed based on observations of children’s behavior, little research has been published to quantitatively prove the effectiveness of the method (Lillard, 2005).  One possible cause for this lack of research may be that the Montessori method is inherently difficult to assess quantitatively.

Montessori, the Method. The Montessori Method is based on the idea that each child must be permitted to control his or her own learning path. The Montessori Method of instruction:

  1. Is naturally differentiated for each student, and

  2. Thus, requires individualized assessment for each student.

An Example. Montessori classrooms strive to provide a three-hour, uninterrupted work period, for children as young as three years old.  Montessori environments encourage students to choose their own work and focus on it until they feel satisfied that they have mastered the activity or skills involved.  Have you ever been learning something new and found that time passed more quickly than you realized?  This is the feeling Montessori teachers hope to encourage.  Long periods of uninterrupted independent work time are required to promote that sort of deep concentration.

In comparison, in many schools today, due to various state and federal mandates, this three-hour time period is frequently interrupted.  While Montessorians certainly understand the rationale behind and necessity for these regulations, they can still prove frustrating.

The Emergence of a Possible Partnership. When the National Governors Association released the Common Core State Standards in 2010, many Montessorians groaned at the idea of more potential regulations (Montessori Compass, 2013).  However, after taking time to investigate the CCSS more carefully, a new idea among some Montessorians is beginning to form.

Standards such as the CCSS are aimed at ensuring that every student is adequately prepared for success in our society but, unlike other approaches to standardized learning, the CCSS neither explicitly regulate what nor how content should be taught.  Instead, the CCSS are ‘shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed’ (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2014a). This is a mission Montessorians can get behind.  In fact, as others like Montessori Compass (2013) have pointed out, the CCSS may generate an opportunity for Montessori to shine and step into the light of mainstream education.

Providing Evidence of Educational Improvement. Montessori researchers have long struggled with ways to provide empirical evidence of Montessori outcomes (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006).  The general nature of the CCSS allows them to be aligned with the Montessori curriculum.  The age and grade benchmarks may not align, but certain CCSS concepts already exist in the Montessori curriculum. The CCSS benchmarks are often achieved at earlier ages and stages in Montessori than required by the Standards.

Examples of Alignment between Montessori and CCSS

  1. One of the Mathematics Standards for Grade 2 is to ‘understand that the three digits of a three-digit number represent amounts of hundreds, tens, and ones; e.g., 706 equals 7 hundreds, 0 tens, and 6 ones’ (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2014b).  These are key concepts in the Montessori work with the Golden Beads, which often begins with five year olds.

  2. The CCSS indicate that children at the Kindergarten level should be able to ‘recognize that spoken words are represented in written language by specific sequences of letters’ and ‘understand that words are separated by spaces in print’ (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2014c).  In Montessori primary classrooms for three to six-year olds, these concepts are taught with hands-on learning materials such as the Sandpaper Letters and the Moveable Alphabet. The English Language Arts Standards are better aligned by age and stage.

Montessori may be an old idea whose time to shine has come (Torrance, 2012), and the Common Core State Standards could be just the thing to turn Montessori into a well-understood household term.  If traditional educators, policy makers, and Montessorians collaborate, the CCSS could be part of an education reform that has something for everyone.

Many children drawing pictures in a kindergarten class


Council of Chief State School Officers. (2014a). Myths vs. Facts. Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Council of Chief State School Officers. (2014b). Grade 2. Number & operations in base ten.Council of Chief State School Officers.Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Council of Chief State School Officers. (2014c). English language arts standards. Reading: foundational skills’¯» Kindergarten. Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Lillard, A., & Else-Quest, N. (2006). The early years: Evaluating Montessori. Science, 313(5795), 1893’“1894.

Lillard, A. S. (2005). Montessori’¯: The science behind the genius. New York: Oxford University Press.

Montessori Compass. (2013, June 24). An opportunity for Montessori to shine. Montessori Compass Blog. Retrieved from

Torrance, M. (2012). Montessori education: An idea whose time has come? Montessori Life, 24(2), 18’“23.

Whitescarver, K., & Cossentino, J. (2008). Montessori and the Mainstream: A Century of Reform on the Margins. The Teachers College Record, 110(12), 2571’“2600.


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