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Study Design


SOUTH CAROLINA PUBLIC SCHOOL MONTESSORI STUDY
STUDY DESIGN

This is a five-year project. Year one represents a planning year, and four subsequent years of data
will be collected: AY2012-13; AY2013-14; AY2014-15; and AY2015-16.

I. Executive Summary:

With support from the Self Family Foundation, the Riley Institute is conducting a five-year, comprehensive research study of public school Montessori education in South Carolina. Over the five-year period, this mixed-method study will develop a full understanding of how public school Montessori impacts a range of education stakeholders in South Carolina and will provide information needed to guide future investment in Montessori. Researchers will examine: the extent to which South Carolina’s public schools are implementing Montessori with fidelity; the demographic makeup of South Carolina’s public school Montessori students; the impacts of the Montessori program on student achievement, discipline, attendance, progression, and affective learning outcomes such as social skills, work habits, and executive function; Montessori teachers’ perspectives on job satisfaction and the impact of Montessori on their students; and parents’ perspectives on the impact of Montessori on their students and their satisfaction with Montessori as parents.

II. Research Questions

  • To what extent are public schools in South Carolina implementing the Montessori model with fidelity?
  • To what extent do the demographic characteristics of South Carolina’s public school Montessori students differ as compared to public school students not enrolled in Montessori programs? (Gender, race, family income, ESL status, and special education status.)
  • To what extent do public school Montessori students differ from non-Montessori public school students on student outcome variables? (Course performance/test scores, discipline, attendance, and progression.)
  • To what extent do public school Montessori students differ from non-Montessori public school students on variables generally classed in the affective domain? (Work habits, social skills, and executive function.)
  • Years Two and Four: What are the perspectives of teachers on the impact of Montessori on their students? What are the perspectives of teachers on the impact of Montessori on their teaching?
  • Years One and Three: What are the perspectives of parents on the impact of Montessori on their children?
  • Thematic/Will Vary Yearly: To what extent do Montessori programs receive support from outside the school? (State Department of Education, district administration, etc)
  • Thematic/Will Vary Yearly: To what extent are there challenges that impede the ability of public schools in South Carolina to implement authentic Montessori?
  • Thematic/Will Vary Yearly: To what extent do public school Montessori teachers in South Carolina’s express satisfaction with their jobs, as compared to teachers in traditional settings?
  • Thematic/Will Vary Yearly: To what extent do five year-old Montessori students differ in their perceptions of school? (If they like school, what they like and don’t like about school, how they ask for help, and what they do if someone in school is unkind to them.)

III. Student Components: Impact Study

a. Comparison of Montessori and Non-Montessori Public School Students: An Analysis of Student Demographics.

Using existing student record databases maintained by the State Department of Education (SDE), the research team will compare the student characteristics of Montessori students to non-Montessori public school students. These characteristics will include gender, race, family income, ESL status, and special education status.

b. Comparison of Montessori and Non-Montessori Public School Students: An Analysis of Student Outcome Variables.

In order that differences between Montessori and non-Montessori public school students are studied, researchers will use existing student record databases obtained by the SDE to examine the student outcomes of Montessori students and look for changes over time in course performance/test scores, discipline, attendance, and progression. The research team will compare outcomes of Montessori students to similar students who did not attend a Montessori school (matched public school sample) and to students across the state (random public school sample). Given the longitudinal nature of the data, researchers will be able to examine changes over time and compare to different groups in different years. These analyses will take place yearly.

c. Generalizing the Effects of Montessori on Students: An In-depth Cohort Analysis.

Using a variety of age-appropriate assessments administered directly to students and using inventories completed by teachers, along with data from the SDE, researchers will examine how participation in a Montessori program impacts affective variables such as work habits, social skills, and executive function. Academic dimensions of this cohort also will be included in the analysis (assessments already being conducted by the schools will be used, in addition to data provided by the SDE). A Montessori school will be selected as a study participant, one with large cohorts of students and a “no choice” situation in regards to participation in Montessori. Another statistically demographically matched school will be selected as the control school. (See more details below in discussion of sampling.) Researchers will compare the Montessori sample (n=90) and the control sample (n=90). The necessary sample size will be determined by a power analysis and allows for attrition over time.

d. Gaining a Deeper Understanding of Montessori Programs: Surveying Montessori Teachers and Parents.

In order to gain attainment of a deeper understanding of the effects of Montessori programs, researchers will use a survey instrument designed by the study team to examine how Montessori programs affect students from the perspective of teachers. Surveys will be web based and will be emailed to all Montessori teachers. Researchers will survey the entire population of public Montessori teachers (N=225 lead teachers) and a sample of parents (convenience sample). Descriptive statistics will summarize the survey results. In addition, open-ended questions at the end of each survey will yield rich qualitative data that can be used to inform the above results.

IV. Study Components: Implementation Study:

Information about programmatic implementation and the extent to which public schools in South Carolina are adhering to the Montessori model will be assessed. Researchers will accomplish this by undertaking a two-part fidelity study each year, as described below.

a. Programmatic Fidelity:

All Montessori public school principals will be asked to complete an in-depth yearly program implementation survey on the school’s Montessori program. Questions will be asked about implementation factors including: multi-aged groupings; student assessment protocols; Montessori materials and equipment; Montessori accreditation; and teacher and assistant Montessori credentialing and training. An analysis of these surveys will allow researchers to understand the extent to which, and the details surrounding, implementation of the Montessori model across South Carolina.

b. Classroom Observations.

Yearly, 35 Montessori classrooms will be randomly selected for observation. Observations will be conducted by retired Montessori teachers who meet stringent credentials and undergo extensive training. The instrument used by observers will be developed by the study team, piloted, and extensively reviewed by leaders in a variety of national and statewide Montessori professional organizations, including the AMS and NCMPC. All Montessori programs will be observed at least once by the end of the study.