What Does the Research Say?

Maria Montessori

Does it Work?

 Maria Montessori considered herself a scientist first and foremost. Her educational philosophy (which she referred to as the Scientific Method) was developed by introducing the materials and tools, experimenting, observing, refining, and eventually defining the finished product as that which produced the desired outcome after being tested scientifically. Through rigorous experiment, she found strategies that worked with the natural development of the child. 

Many studies have been done comparing Montessori students to Traditional students. While no perfect study can be conducted, (there is no way to have a perfect control with all the factors that contribute to a child’s education) these studies have shed a highly positive light on Montessori methods. Most studies indicate that Montessori students are as prepared or more in reading and math as their Traditional counterparts. Their executive functioning also tends to be more advanced than that of Traditionally educated students. Beyond that, students educated under Montessori methodology are found to be more socially mature, displaying greater fairness, compassion, and overall a greater sense of community. 

The links below will direct you to sites used in this brief summary. This could be a good starting point for your own research into the fascinating study of the scientific evidence on Montessori education.


Dohrmann, K., “Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program: A Longitudinal Study of the Experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools” (AMI/USA May, 2003). 

This longitudinal study of Milwaukee high school graduates showed  that students who had attended Montessori preschool and elementary  programs significantly outperformed a peer control group on math/science  scores. “In essence,” the study found, “attending a Montessori program  from the approximate ages of three to 11 predicts significantly higher  mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school.

Donabella, M.A. & Rule, A.C., “Four  Seventh Grade Students who Qualify for Academic Intervention Services  in Mathematics Learning Multi-Digit Multiplication with the Montessori  Checkerboard,” TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 4(3) Article 2 (January 2008). Retrieved October 4, 2012 from http://journals.cec.sped.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1450&context=tecplus

This article describes the positive impact of Montessori  manipulative materials on four seventh grade students who qualified for  academic intervention services because of previous low state test scores  in mathematics. The article presents a brief introduction to the  Montessori approach to learning, an overview of Montessori mathematics,  and an explanation of the Checkerboard for Multiplication with related  multiplication manipulatives. Pretest/post-test results of the four  students indicated that all increased their understanding of  multiplication. The results of an attitude survey showed students  improved in enjoyment, perceived knowledge, and confidence in solving  multiplication problems.

East Dallas Community Schools: Montessori Outcomes

East Dallas Community Schools operates two inner-city Montessori  schools that serve an ethnically and culturally diverse group of  primarily low-income families. In over 30 years of using the Montessori  approach to education, EDCS has proved that all children, regardless of  race or income, can succeed in school when you start young and involve  parents.   In a neighborhood in which the high school dropout rate is  over 50%, children who attend EDCS have graduated from high school at a  rate of 94%, with 88% of those graduates attending college. A ten-year  study of standardized test scores found that third grade students’  average scores were in the top 36% nationwide in reading and math. Even  though many of these children start school without speaking any English,  100% of the children test as fluent in English by the end of the third  grade.

Lillard, A.S.,“Preschool Children’s Development in Classic Montessori, Supplemented Montessori, and Conventional Programs,” Journal of School Psychology 50:379-401 (June 2012)

Angeline Lillard examines the impact of Montessori implementation  fidelity. Her study found that children in classroom with high fidelity  implementation showed significantly greater school- year gains on  outcome measures of executive function, reading, math, vocabulary, and  social problem-solving, than children in low fidelity or conventional  classrooms.

Lillard, A.S. & Else-Quest, N., “Evaluating Montessori Education,” Science 131: 1893-94 (Sept. 29, 2006).

Researchers compared Montessori students with students in other  school programs, and found that 5-year-old children who completed the  three-year cycle in the Montessori preschool program scored higher on  both academic and behavioral tests than the control group.   The study  also found that 12-year-old Montessori students wrote more sophisticated  and creative stories and showed a more highly developed sense of  community and social skills than students in other programs. 

Lillard, A.S., Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, New York: Oxford UP, 2005.

A comprehensive review of the scientific literature that  demonstrates how current research validates Dr. Montessori’s  observations about how children learn, particularly with regard to  movement and cognition, the detrimental effect on motivation of  extrinsic rewards, the beneficial effect of order in the environment,  and the academic and emotional benefits of freedom of choice. 

Rathunde, K., “A Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Middle Schools: Motivation, Quality of Experience, and Social Context,” The NAMTA Journal 28.3 (Summer 2003): pp. 12-52. 

This study compared middle school students in Montessori programs  with students in traditional middle schools, and found significantly  higher student motivation and socialization among the Montessori  students. “There were strong differences suggesting that Montessori  students were feeling more active, strong, excited, happy, relaxed,  sociable, and proud while engaged in academic work. They were also  enjoying themselves more, they were more interested in what they were  doing, and they wanted to be doing academic work more than the  traditional students.”

Related Studies

Diamond, A. & Lee, K., “Interventions Shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4 to 12 Years Old,” Science 333:959-964 and Supporting Online Material (Aug. 19, 2011).

To be successful takes creativity, flexibility, self-control, and  discipline. Central to all those are executive functions, including  mentally playing with ideas, giving a considered rather than a  compulsive response, and staying focused.  This review compares research  results from various activities and curricula that have been shown to  improve children’s executive function, including computerized training,  aerobic exercise, martial arts and mindfulness practices, and classroom  curricula including Montessori education. In a comparison of curricula  and curricula add-ons, the Montessori approach is shown to meet more  criteria for the development of executive function for a more extended  age group.

Diamond, A., “The  Evidence Base for Improving School Outcomes by Addressing the Whole  Child and by Addressing Skills and Attitudes, Not Just Content.” Early Education and Development, 2: 780-793 (2010)

Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive  Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, is one of the  world’s leading researchers on the development of cognitive function and  a supporter of Montessori education. In this article she discusses  effective strategies for advancing academic achievement, and advises:  “Programs that address the whole child (cognitive, emotional, social and  physical needs) are the most successful at improving any single aspect –  for good reason. For example, if you want to help children with  academic development, you will not realize the best results if you focus  only on academic achievement (though at first glance doing that might  seem the most efficient strategy); counter-intuitively, the most  efficient and effective strategy for advancing academic achievement is  to also nurture children’s social, emotional, and physical needs.”

Additional Research