Advancing Montessori public policy, expanding access and equity

KatieBrownKatie Brown reports from the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in Washington DC. Katie is a Doctoral student in Urban Education at University of North Carolina Charlotte and a former Education Associate coordinating Montessori Education at the South Carolina Department of Education.

Last month, I attended the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in Washington, DC. This gathering brought together leaders of national, regional, and state Montessori organizations to discuss how to better advocate for Montessori education. Guest speakers included Libby Doggett from the Office of Early Learning in the U.S. Department of Education, Jolene Ivey of the Maryland House of Delegates, and Jim Cultrara of the Council for American Private Education. These speakers identified opportunities for us as Montessorians to make inroads in existing educational infrastructure, and provided guidelines for how we can be more effective advocates. Breakout sessions addressed such topics as forming state Montessori organizations, increasing access in both public and private settings, and prioritizing key issues for our advocacy work.

As in most Montessori gatherings, I was impressed by the collective energy and will that was palpable among the group. One of the major takeaways from this event was that as a community, we need to band together to make things happen–AMS and AMI, public and private. Many of the challenges that we face are the same, and we should be banding together to fight shared battles. At the same time, we often fight these battles in very different contexts. States, counties, and districts often have different regulations and varying levels of receptivity to Montessori.

Although it was very exciting to be a part of this collective energy, as a representative of Montessori for Social Justice (along with Daniel Petter-Lipstein) and as an urban education scholar, I was struck by the lack of discussion of equity and inclusion. When I looked around the room, I noticed that the group was sorely lacking in representation from Montessorians of color. Although much of the conversation revolved around making Montessori accessible to more students, very little was said about increasing access for students of color and low-income students specifically, and how we ensure that high-quality Montessori best fits their educational needs. Conversation in the breakout session titled “Increasing Access in Public and Private Settings” was primarily dedicated to the issue of public funding and private school tuition for three- and four-year-olds. Special education was also discussed, along with the need to better prepare Montessori teachers to serve students with special needs. I brought up the question of how to diversify the Montessori teacher pool, but my impression is that if I had not, the issue of racial diversity may have gone unaddressed in this session.

By harnessing the collective energy of the Montessori community and channeling it into organized and focused advocacy efforts, MPPI is doing tremendously important work. At the same time, these advocacy efforts may only benefit a small subset of students if issues of racial, cultural, and economic diversity and equity are not prioritized. We are often caught up in the daily work of addressing these issues in our individual schools and classrooms, and so we should be. But we must also be active participants in the big-picture conversations about equity and access if we are to effect systemic change.


Update 12/19 – MPPI’s response:
MPPI was happy to welcome our partners from Montessori for Social Justice at the first-ever national convening of state-level Montessori advocates last month. The advocacy retreat was a monumental step forward for our fledgling initiative, and was the first time that multiple state and national stakeholders have convened to discuss common challenges and share promising solutions. The author is not wrong to state that equity and social justice were not predominant themes, in large part because the Montessori movement is currently in reactive mode with the capacity to respond to immediate policy threats (and opportunities). However, MPPI has launched a six-month strategic planning effort that we hope will help us chart a path forward to becoming a highly effective initiative with the capacity to provide proactive leadership on issues of critical importance to the future of Montessori and our nation’s children. MPPI holds equity, diversity and increased access for underrepresented communities of color as critical goals for the Montessori movement and we recognize our responsibility as a national initiative to lead on these issues. We cannot do it alone, however, and will rely on partners such as Montessori for Social Justice to promote the dialogue, provide issue expertise and expand our access to other allies that can rally greater attention to these critical issues. We look forward to working with MSJ as we continue this exciting journey and appreciate the important role your organization plays in the national dialogue.