Think Big With Montessori Education

Think Big with Montessori Education

It was a quiet September morning, sitting around drinking coffee.  We were on vacation with friends and talking about what to do for the day.

Then an email came in announcing that Jeff Bezos was investing $2 Billion for free Montessori-inspired preschools. 

All plans for the day were put on hold.

The game began.

The game? What would we do with $2 Billion to get Montessori preschools to the maximum amount of children?

Within a matter of minutes it became quite evident that there was a big problem.

There weren’t enough teachers or teachers’ training programs to supply the demand for this type of growth. 

Even with $2 Billion, it would take years to roll out a quality program with teachers and multiple locations.

Slow quality growth. That is what Bezos Academy has done over the past five and a half years. 

It has been a time-consuming process starting schools, but today Bezos Academy has opened 46 schools in 6 states with plans for many more.

Most Montessori schools in the United States since their inception have been part of a cottage industry. In the early 70’s many Montessori schools were started by teachers and/or parents in church basements. These schools were small and operated on shoe-string budgets, but were filled with enthusiasm for implementing Montessori principles. Enrollment was stable, and growth was gradual over twenty or thirty years. 

Fast forward to 2024, and we see people, like Jeff Bezos and the Bezos Academy staff, thinking big about ongoing Montessori education and implementation.

We see Educational Saving Accounts (ESAs) legislated in many states.  According to the American Federation of Children’s website, 34 states now have some type of ESA or voucher program to offer educational choice to families. 

As opportunities for educational freedom appear, the challenges of being able to offer authentic Montessori education as a choice seem to center around the lack of trained teachers, and the lack of enough schools with enrollment availability. 

Division material from a Montessori elementary classroom.

How can the Montessori community meet this opportunity for growth?

There are people and organizations rising to meet this obstacle to expansion.

Montessori training institutions are offering scholarships to help attract more teachers. A few examples: 

  • The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) offers the Margaret Stephenson Fund to participants. 
  • The American Montessori Society (AMS) offers three teacher scholarship funds. 
  • The Center for Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS) offers scholarships along with versatile online teacher training programs. 
  • Individual training centers may also offer scholarships.

Another aspect of recruiting and retaining Montessori teachers is that the teaching profession is on a downturn. Teachers are leaving traditional teaching in record numbers citing the difficulties of engaging students who seem to be addicted to phones. 

A recent WSJ article highlighted a high school teacher, Betsy Sumner, who said, “It’s almost like preparing for a circus or a theater performance—every day you have to show up and do a show. It’s just not really sustainable.”

School administrators deal with hiring new teachers that sign a contract and then want to take off for two months for Europe. Many younger people find the idea, having to be there on a predictable basis for the students, a difficult one to incorporate into their lives. 

In short, we have to recruit and retain more Montessori teachers if we are going to think big in Montessori Education when becoming a teacher is not an attractive proposition.

Montessori teachers engage their students with hands-on lessons.

It becomes important that we highlight the positive aspects of being Montessori teachers:

  • helping children become independent learners;
  • using the prepared environment as the amazing teaching tool to engage students, knowing you don’t have to put on a new show every day to entertain your students; 
  • being able to truly make a difference with children in our multi-age classrooms.

Once we have teachers we need schools, private or public. 

Private Montessori Schools 

Today most private Montessori schools for students from 3 to 15 years started in the 1970’s in church basements and slowly grew over the decades. Growth was an organic process as children aged up, siblings followed, and returning generations enrolled with their children. 

Unfortunately, a basement type program today can’t be done on a shoestring. Various building codes and child care regulations require an investment that is not easily done. 

For example, when I started a school in 1990 it cost $250,000 to open the doors for 25 to 30 students, in terms of building requirements and leases, teachers training, classroom materials, and more.

In 2024 dollars, that $250,000 would be inflation-adjusted to at least $608,000. 

Today, starting a one-room school is a considerable expense, not available to most teachers or parents. 

Tuition costs for private schools now run from $9,000 to $20,000 for preschool programs in contrast to the $2500 to $5000 preschool tuition in 1990. The ESA funds most likely won’t cover the total cost of a private Montessori tuition. 

Public Montessori Schools

Public Montessori schools continue to be added school district by school district usually as a charter school, and sometimes as a magnet school. 

The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector offers resources to help groups wanting to establish Montessori programs in public school systems.  Starting a public school program requires many of the financial resources as starting a private school. Sometimes there is excess school district buildings that can be rented, otherwise the charter school must find and pay the ongoing lease for a commercial building, as well as have co-signers on the lease. 

Starting a charter school requires basically the same financial start up as a private school. The bonus is that the child’s tuition is covered by public funds.

Private or public, growing Montessori programs requires significant investment from individuals or our taxpayers’ school district. 

Thinking Big with Montessori Education is happening all over the world.

There are people and organizations who are answering this call for financing Montessori school development, for both faculty and facilities. 

The Bezos Academy is perhaps the most visible and well-funded.

There are smaller organizations emerging, that are thinking big, beyond the idea of starting only one school. An example is the Global Montessori Growth Fund that offers grants to communities worldwide. 

The Childhood Potential Club offers an online conference where part of the proceeds go to fund Montessori programs around the world.

The newly formed Cherokee Rose Montessori Foundation, started by Elizabeth Ashworth, a 26-year Montessori teacher and administrator, along with her family, is another example of individuals stepping up to the challenge of teacher shortages, high tuition, and school availability. With the Cherokee Rose Montessori Foundation, Ashworth envisions offering tuition assistance to help bring the gift of Montessori education to more families: helping communities establish Montessori schools, offering teacher scholarships, and making Montessori education accessible to those who desire it. 

These organizations think big by planting seeds to educate the human potential. 

There are more seed-spreading organizations than I can name here, and I would love to hear from you and learn how you think big.

Children self-select their work in a Montessori classroom.

Change is here.

Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) offer families educational freedom and school choice, as well as provide a source of income for new and existing schools.

Parents desire alternatives to traditional education, believing that there is a better way to help their children learn and grow. The parents’ challenge is to find a school that has available enrollment in their area. 

The Montessori community stands at an opening of possibilities for the continued growth and vibrancy of Montessori education.

We need to think big about how to leverage our potential.

Our children, our families and our world need Montessori education more than ever.

Start small. Think Big. 

How can you make a difference?

I invite you to visit these websites to see how you might contribute to thinking big about Montessori education.

Bezos Academy

American Federation of Children

Association Montessori internationale

American Montessori Society

Center for Guided Montessori Studies

International Montessori Council/ Montessori Foundation

National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector

Global Montessori Growth Fund

The Childhood Potential Club

Cherokee Rose Montessori Foundation

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