Are all Montessori Schools Equal? The Independent School Advantage
By Monica Van Aken, Ed. D, Head of School
People often ask me who owns the Montessori franchise. Because at first glance Montessori schools may appear to offer identical educational experiences, some assume that what we offer at MMS is pretty much the same as what one might find at any other Montessori school, public or private.
The reality is that MMS offers a vastly different environment for students. MMS is an independent school accredited by, and held to the rigorous stands of, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and the reasons people pay for the independent school experience are manifold.
How are independent schools different from parochial or public schools?
- Independent schools are just that -‐ independent. They have the freedom to follow an educational mission with distinct philosophies, values, and teaching approaches.
- Families choose independent schools because they feel they are the best for their child's needs.
- Independent schools are not supported by public funds; they are supported by a combination of tuition, charitable contributions, and endowment revenue.
- Independent schools are governed by a board of trustees, not a public school board.
- Independent schools have the freedom to allow teachers to create educational experiences to meet each child's needs, without state mandates regarding curriculum, textbooks, and testing.
- Distinct though each one is, independent schools have a lot in common. They teach young people academic skills, plus the importance of hard work, leadership, personal responsibility, and good citizenship.
Some Features of Independent Schools
- High academic standards. Independent schools nurture intellectual curiosity, stimulate personal growth, and encourage critical thinking. A larger percentage of students at independent schools are enrolled in advanced courses than in public, parochial, and other private school. This is true of our own MMS graduates, most of whom enter high school enrolled in advanced level mathematics, English, science and foreign language classes.
- Small classes and individual attention. Independent schools have intimate classrooms that encourage close connections. In keeping with the Montessori philosophy, MMS lesson sizes are decidedly smaller: one-to-one in Children's House, three-to-one in Lower Elementary, and anywhere from four-to-one to at most twelve-to-one in the Upper Elementary and Junior High. Small lesson sizes ensure that students do not fall through the cracks and that teachers interact personally with students on a daily basis. This close contact makes MMS graduates good at asking for assistance or clarification when in high school and college.
- Excellent teachers. Our teachers teach in their own areas of expertise and are passionate about what they do. They also have the autonomy to develop a full understanding of how each student learns and what interest and motivates them.
- Education for the whole child. Independent schools nurture not only the students' intellectual ability and curiosity, but also personal growth, social awareness, and civic conscience. Opportunities extend well beyond the classroom to athletic competitions, artistic pursuits, and school leadership experiences. All MMS students bein foreign language study at age three, 50% play an instrument, 70% play a team sport, and all participate in community service, from mitten and cranberry drives to adopting beachfront along Lake Michigan.
- Inclusiveness. Independent Schools maintain vibrant student communities, and they welcome and respect each family. Nationally, students of color comprise 22.4% of total independent school enrollment, but here at MMS we enjoy an environment where a full 40% of our students come from diverse racial and international backgrounds.
- Advanced core knowledge. Private school graduates are more likely than their peers from public schools to complete advanced-level courses in key academic subject areas. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics' "National Educational Longitudinal Study" (NELS), 85% of NAIS' students study a foreign language before the eight grade, compared to 24% of students overall. The same study also showed that students at NAIS-accredited schools were more than twice as likely to complete algebra in eight grade (70% vs. 32% of all students polled). By completing gateway courses early, independent school students are able to take the most advanced courses during their final years of high school.
- Help all achieve college enrollment. The NELS Study showed that graduates of NAIS schools were nearly twice as likely as public school students to complete a four-year degree or higher (76.3% vs. 38.1%). For students from the lowest socioeconomic bracket, the results were even more dramatic. Those who attended private school in eighth grade were more than three times more likely to complete a bachelor's degree or higher by their mid-20s than those from public schools (24% to 7%).
- Emphasis on citizenship. The NELS Study showed that graduates of NAIS schools were more active in civic life as young adults. Whereas 57.4% of all students voted in a presidential election as young adults, 75.3% of participating students from NAIS schools did so. NAIS graduates were also nearly twice as likely to volunteer to work for a political campaign than the whole group.
In the end, our independence is central to our success. It gives us the freedom to provide an elevated academic experience that deeply enriches your child's unique mosaic of intellectual, physical, and moral deveo