This past weekend I attended the Progressive Education Network conference held in Brooklyn, New York. I was interested to see what connections there were between Montessori and the broader progressive education world. Here’s what I learned:
Progressive education is a BIG tent. As a researcher on Montessori schools, I was welcomed enthusiastically. Teachers and the Principal of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School were some of the organizers of the PEN Conference. Progressive educators I met were excited to learn about Montessori for Social Justice and the MSJ conference in June 2016.
Montessori is has a bigger and more organized footprint in the public sector than other progressive schools. While there are a small number of progressive public schools, most people I talked to were staggered to learn that there are 500 public Montessori programs educating 125,000 students. We have NCMPS to thank for counting and organizing this group into a more coherent bloc!
We both want to change the conversation in education reform. Progressive educators are concerned about current directions in public education away from the needs of children and toward the needs of policy makers. The conference featured a plenary session on the opt-out movement featuring a number of teachers and parents who are leading the struggle.
We’re facing similar struggles. First, an accountability challenge from the top as public schools demand a testing regime, and in private schools, parents demand data to know that their students are on track with their peers.
Progressive schools in the public sector are particularly vulnerable to testing requirements. One of only two charter schools closed by Carmen Fariña in New York City last year was the progressive Ethical Community Charter School in Brooklyn, NY.
Progressive educators would like to change the conversation about testing, but sometimes feel marginal to the education reform conversation – perhaps joining with Montessorians would create greater strength in numbers?
Another struggle was one raised by many speakers at the conference who pushed progressive independent schools to think about their lack of diversity, particularly schools like the Ethical Culture Fieldston School that had started as a school for “working men’s children” as Deborah Meier pointed out in her plenary address. “Where are [these children]? Why do we celebrate our failure?”
I encourage more Montessorians to attend this conference when it happens again
in 2017, and to partner with local progressive schools to work on common education reform goals together.