Montessori vs. Common Core State Standards in Minnesota

If you follow stories related to education policy (I will admit that I do, but then again I am an education nerd), you have probably heard of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS is a national educational initiative that details what K-12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. The initiative grew out of efforts in the 1990s to increase standards and accountability for all schools and all students, with the end goal being that all students – regardless of gender, race, income or geography – are equally well prepared for life after high school.

While there is little disagreement about the value of adequately preparing all kids for success, the question of how to achieve that goal is widely debated. In the Montessori community, there has been a good deal of skepticism and even aversion to the CCSS initiative. This reaction is totally understandable to me. The Montessori method, at its core, encompasses rich traditions, based on scientific study, tailored around how children develop and learn. Whether it’s Common Core Standards or any of the other recent national educational initiatives (think “No Child Left Behind” or “A Nation at Risk” before that), the fear is that Montessori’s research-based curriculum and approach will be wrongly judged or worse, forcibly diluted to meet some popular external criteria.

If you live in Minnesota and are considering sending your child to White Bear Montessori School (or any AMI accredited Montessori), here are a few things you should know:

  • Minnesota is not considered a full Common Core state because while it adopted the English Language Arts standard in 2010, it has not adopted the mathematics standard. As a result, Minnesota is not a member of the two national testing consortia related to the Common Core standards; instead, Minnesota has developed its own assessments aligned to the standards.

  • Because 45 other states have adopted the CCSS, both the national and Minnesota Montessori community have been actively following and in some cases participating in the CCSS’ discussion. This July AMI published a completed mapping of a representative AMI elementary curriculum to the CCSS in math, geometry, reading, writing, language arts, speaking and listening.

  • The not-so-surprising conclusion: AMI’s Cosmic Education not only covers the vast majority of the Common Core standards but goes considerable beyond them in both scope and depth.

The bottom line for me is this: most people involved in education reform are trying to improve the learning process and learning outcomes for kids. This is a good thing. However, education reformers frequently get bogged down in heated disagreements over “what” and “when” to teach. While these are important details, I would argue that too often we miss out on a discussion about “how” to teach. And that is where Montessori really shines. If you decide to enroll your child in White Bear Montessori School, you can rest assured that he or she will acquire all the multitude of skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century. Research on the learning outcomes for kids in Montessori has proven that time and time again. But if you decide to enroll your child in our ToddlerChildren's House or Elementary programs, that means you are also giving serious thought to how they will learn. The Montessori Method views the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child – physical, social, emotional and cognitive. The end result is to encourage lifelong learning, the joy of learning, and happiness about one’s path and purpose in life.

Like it or not, the national discussion about Common Core State Standards is driving the conversation about the “what” and “when” of education today. But as a parent, you are still in control of deciding the “how.”

Danielle Cloe