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©2018. Courtesy American Montessori Society. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


Since the establishment of the state’s first public Montessori program at Walker Gamble School in the Clarendon 3 school district in the mid-1990s, South Carolina has been on the cutting edge of public Montessori. Yet, despite the growth and popularity of Montessori education in the state and across the country, there has been a dearth of research on the fidelity of Montessori programs in the public sector and the effect of Montessori on student outcomes. To analyze these important questions, the Riley Institute developed and implemented the most comprehensive evaluation of public Montessori to date with support from the Self Family Foundation and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee. This evaluation provides insight on the impact of public Montessori on diverse stakeholders.

Summary of Findings

Below is a summary of findings.  Download the Executive Summary and the Full Report for more details.

Fidelity to the Model

On average, public school programs in South Carolina are implementing the Montessori model with fidelity, although there is variation regarding the extent to which different programs implement authentic Montessori. Of the programs that were observed, 22 were classified as high fidelity, 14 as mid fidelity, and 8 as low fidelity.

Download the Principal Survey Results

Download the Classroom Observation Results

Student Demographics

When the study ended in the 2015-16 academic year, there were 7,402 students participating in a public Montessori program in 45 different schools across 24 districts in South Carolina.1 Most Montessori programs are in Title I schools, and the majority of students are low-income. Approximately 55% of Montessori students are white, while 34% are black and 10% are Hispanic. One in ten Montessori students has a special education designation. While Montessori students are generally quite similar demographically to other public school students across the state, Montessori students are more likely to be white and higher income when compared to non-Montessori students in the same district.

Download the Student Demographic Analysis Results

Academic Outcomes

Proficiency. For the most recent year of data collection (2015-16), 52% of Montessori students met or exceeded state standards in ELA, 46% met or exceeded state standards in math, 70% met or exceeded state standards in science, and 80% met or exceeded state standards in social studies. When compared to non-Montessori public school students across the state, Montessori students were more likely to have met or exceeded the state standards in each of the four subjects.

Achievement Growth Analyses. After matching Montessori students to demographically similar non-Montessori students and controlling for student demographics and previous test scores, researchers found that Montessori students scored significantly higher on ELA state standardized tests than non-Montessori students across all three years of the analysis. Furthermore, there was a significant Montessori advantage in math and social studies in two of the three years. The results for science were mixed, as Montessori students demonstrated significantly less growth than non-Montessori students in one year (2013-14) and significantly more growth in another year (2015-16). Subgroup analyses indicated that low-income Montessori students scored significantly higher than low-income non-Montessori students in ELA, math, and social studies. While these differences in achievement growth between Montessori and non-Montessori students are statistically significant, the differences are generally quite small, as the effect sizes typically range from .05 to .08 standard deviations.

Affective Outcomes

Direct assessments of a cohort of students over four years show that Montessori students generally perform similar to or better than non-Montessori students on assessments of executive function, although the results are mixed over the years. Montessori students exhibited significantly higher levels of creativity than non-Montessori students. There were no consistent differences between the two groups on work habits or social skills. 

Behavioral Outcomes

Montessori students consistently demonstrated higher school attendance than matched non-Montessori students after adjusting for the attendance rate in the previous year and student characteristics. Furthermore, Montessori students were significantly less likely than similar non-Montessori students to have had a disciplinary incident or have served a suspension during the school year.

Teacher Perceptions

A majority of Montessori teachers reported that they loved their jobs and planned to remain in the profession. Few showed interest in administration. Teachers expressed concerns about the authenticity of their school’s program, school and district administrators’ lack of understanding of Montessori, the pressure of a standards-based curriculum, and the amount of time spent testing.

Download the Teacher Survey Results


Through the efforts of state, district, and school officials, South Carolina is a leader in public Montessori, and this study demonstrates that public Montessori continues to grow throughout the state in terms of the number of Montessori programs and student enrollment. While the teacher survey results indicate that there is some tension between the Montessori model and the standards and accountability movement, classroom observation and principal surveys indicate that most public Montessori programs are implementing the Montessori model with fidelity.

This evaluation provided considerable evidence of a Montessori advantage. However, the research team was particularly interested in the effect of Montessori on education inequalities. Montessori education is often thought of as an elite approach to education for privileged students, primarily available in the private sector. However, because of the promise the model has offered to students across the world for over 100 years, considerable investment was made in South Carolina to implement Montessori in public schools across the state. These schools, most of them classified as Title I, serve large numbers of low-income and minority students in often rural and poverty-stricken areas. The question of how these students perform and whether or not investment in Montessori has paid off for these students looms large.

This study attempted to answer these and other questions around the ability of Montessori education in the public sector to moderate the effects of poverty on students. This study found that public Montessori is not limited to high-income, primarily white students. In fact, low-income students and non-white students make up 54% and 45%, respectively, of all Montessori students in public Montessori programs in South Carolina. However, within district analyses demonstrated that white and higher income students may be overrepresented in public Montessori programs. Nonetheless, it remained an open question whether the Montessori advantages in test score growth found in the general analyses were wide-ranging.

The sub-group analyses presented in this evaluation provide evidence of the egalitarian possibilities of Montessori education. Low-income students and low-achieving students seem to benefit from Montessori. While white Montessori students exhibit higher growth than similar students in the matched comparison group, so do black Montessori students. This evaluation by the Riley Institute provides evidence that public Montessori has appeal to a broad range of parents in South Carolina, and it appears that the benefits of Montessori education are wide-ranging as well.

Contact Us

For more information about results or study methodology, please contact Dr. Brooke Culclasure, Principal Investigator at