Montessori muddle

Tonight we heard public comment from many families whose children are currently enrolled in the general education program at Dr. William R. Cobb Elementary. Families are worried their program will be closed, because the school district is implementing a Montessori program at the same site.

While my ability to talk about the specifics of this situation is limited, there has been no decision to either close the school, move a program, or end a program.

What I can say is that The Montessori program at Cobb was created to fulfill two objectives: implement programs that integrate Pre-K and elementary school programs in a seamless way; and create high-quality programs for African-American children. In several districts across the country (most notably Milwaukee), public Montessori programs have been implemented with very positive results for low-income children and African-American children, and this data was the spark that started the push for a Pre-K through 5th grade public Montessori program. Why locate this program at Cobb? There were existing preschool classrooms, the school was under-enrolled, and the principal was enthusiastic.

I don’t believe anyone saw the Montessori program as a way to marginalize the predominantly African-American families who currently attend the school. The objective (I believe, though I was not on the Board at the time the program was created) was to offer families from the Western Addition a unique and high-quality alternative program; and a program that would afford children a seamless transition from preschool to elementary classrooms. Because our preschool programs are required to reserve 60 percent of their seats for families who are low-income, job-hunting, or unable to afford preschool, the Cobb program was seen as a way to ensure that the least-advantaged families were first in line as we implemented a promising educational approach.

I’m posting a useful FAQ on the Cobb General Ed-Montessori situation that may help answer some of the questions swirling around.

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6 responses to “Montessori muddle

  1. Dr. Fagan, why wouldn’t younger siblings of students in the general ed program want to check out Montessori? I’m not clear on that – has anyone from the district ever said that current students or their younger siblings wouldn’t be accommodated? The whole point of my post was to make clear that the new program was always seen as accommodating current families.
    For more recent articles, check out “Evaluating Montessori Education,” by Lillard and Else-Quest, published in Science Magazine Vol 313 (Sept. 29, 2006), and also, “Montessori vs. Traditional Education in the Public Sector,” by Manner, published in the Forum on Public Policy, Spring 2007. Unfortunately, neither of these articles are available free online, which is why I could not link to them in my original post.
    Look, no one is saying that Montessori is THE only way or even THE best way to educate students, regardless of their SES or race. The point of my post was only to say that the Montessori program was considered promising enough to try, and specifically promising for a cohort of students (district-wide) that we have not served well in the past. Additionally, I was trying to make the point that the program was NEVER intended to marginalize or otherwise push out African-American families from Cobb or any other school.
    I have apologized on behalf of the district for significant communication failures, which you reference above. But what I think is sad is that the anger at those failures seems so all-encompassing that it has prevented any clear-headed analysis about how and where Montessori could have benefits for students at Cobb or elsewhere in the district.
    My offer to discuss this with you further offline stands. Thank you for your dedication to educating African-American students in our district and students at Cobb in particular; also for your willingness to be an advocate for families who have not been heard.

  2. Dr. Yvette Fagan

    One meeting for general education community to tell them that they are being consolidated out of their neighborhood school is considered “flawed”? Well, okay, perhaps it is a matter of perception. Are you saying when you state “….students from the CDC would move up seamlessly to a new K-5 Montessori program…” that 60% of the current CDC is African American children with siblings in the traditional program? If not, where are the parents in the Western Addition slotted to send their children? John Swett is closed. Golden Gate is closed. Rosa Parks is becoming Japanese Immersion. Are the parents to send their children to schools in the Richmond, Haight or Tenderloin? Will there be bussing to support the moving of this historically Black, overwhelmingly Western Addition population from Cobb? I also checked out the website …”Montessori programs have been implemented with very positive results for low-income children and African-American children…..”. Shockingly, none of the articles have data that compare test scores of African American students in general education programs with test scores of African American students in Montessori. 12 of the 14 articles were written before 2000. The majority were written in the late 80’s before state testing was much of a concern. It is my sincere hope that there is hard statistical evidence that shows disaggregated differences between the two programs before the community is sent in Diaspora.

  3. You are correct that our preschool programs set aside 60% of their seats for students of any race who qualify as low-income. The idea was that students from the CDC would move up seamlessly to a new K-5 Montessori program. You are also correct that outreach to existing families and staff was flawed.

  4. Dr. Yvette Fagan

    “Why locate this program at Cobb? There were existing preschool classrooms, the school was under-enrolled, and the principal was enthusiastic”…” and create high-quality programs for African-American children.” Should there not have been a conversation with the African-American families to see if this is what they wanted for their children? The first general education community meeting was g did not occur until May 16, 2009. Why? My understanding, until reading your blog, was that 60% of the spots were to go to families of certain SES and were not to be designated by race. There is nothing that says race defines your SES? Please clarify.

  5. Hi Dr. Fagan. I don’t think that’s what I said, but in any event it is not what I meant. To say that the Montessori program was conceived as a high-quality alternative program for African-American students does not denigrate current offerings; it simply acknowledges that we haven’t, as a district, done as much to offer high-quality programs to African-American students as we should have. Our achievement data for African-American students in this district proves that.

  6. Dr. Yvette Fagan

    Am I to read from your statements above that there is currently no high quality program for Black students at Cobb? Please clarify what type of program is currently in place for the 170+ students in the general education program.