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Fernwood in Bay View houses one of MPS' successful Montessori schools.
Fernwood in Bay View houses one of MPS' successful Montessori schools.

NAACP report touts public Montessori schools

If you read my blog posts, you know I support public education. You may have also gleaned that I believe in the public Montessoris in Milwaukee.

Not only is Milwaukee's group of public Montessoris a one of a kind in the U.S. – I believe no other public district has as many of them – but they work.

When the WKCE scores came out a few months ago the public Montessori community rejoiced. The numbers offered concrete proof that the public Montessoris are on the right track, outpacing not only all MPS schools, but, in most cases, state scores, too.

We've noticed that administration has noticed, too. While some sensed that superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton didn't quite buy in to the Montessoris yet when he arrived a year ago, we've seen changes.

For example, the Montessoris are waived from participating in the district-wide reading curriculum. Also, at a recent teacher training day, the Montessori teachers were, for the first time under this administration, allowed, to attend their own Montessori-focused training.

It's not a mystery. Dr. Thornton has said many times that he wants to encourage and expand on what's working in MPS. And over the past few months he's often pointed to the Montessoris as examples of success in the district.

If we needed more proof that public Montessori is ripe for encouragement and expansion in MPS, check out "Milwaukee Today: An Occasional Report of the NAACP," prepared by UWM's R.L. McNeely, David Pate and Lisa Ann Johnson.

The report, issued last month, focuses on education, employment, income and other topics in Milwaukee's African-American community.

The report, estimating that 40% of African Americans in MPS will ever earn a degree, says, "Despite the efforts of very dedicated public school teachers, many African Americans enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools appear to be on a fast track for unemployment and incarceration."

That's 27th in the nation in terms of black male graduation rates, according to the report.

But, it notes that MPS outperforms voucher schools in both reading and math and then adds:

"Prospects for educational achievement are brightest for Milwaukee Public School students who are enrolled in Montessori schools."

Using 2009-10 numbers, the report notes that while one in two African Americans in MPS is proficient in reading (57.6 percent in Wisconsin overall), 69 percent of African Americans in the MPS Montessori schools are proficient. Among Latinos, those numbers are 60 percent in MPS and 81.3 percent in the Montessoris.

In math, 39.4 percent of African Americans in MPS are proficient vs. 60.2 percent in the MPS Montessori schools. In language arts the numbers are 34.3 percent in the district, 59.3 percent in the Montessoris.

But check out these numbers.

While 32.4 percent of African American MPS students are proficient in science, more than double that number – 66.1 percent – of African American students in the Montessoris are proficient.

In social studies, 47.3 percent of African American kids are proficient in the subject in MPS in general, but 82.2 percent are proficient in the subject in the Montessori schools.

The scores are based on WKCE tests at Craig (on the Northwest Side), Fernwood (in Bay View), MacDowell (on the near West Side) and Maryland Avenue Montessori (on the East Side) schools. The Montessori program is still being phased in at Lloyd Barbee (in the old Garden Homes Elementary School). Another MPS charter school, Kosciuszko, has a Montessori program, too.

There is also a Montessori International Baccalaureate High School housed in the former Juneau High School building. That has struggled. However, the issue is being discussed right now on Vliet Street and in the public Montessori community in Milwaukee.

In September, Wauwatosa Public Schools opens the door on its first public Montessori program, too. As is the case at most MPS Montessoris, the new Tosa program already has a waiting list.

While those in the Montessori schools caution against making the existing programs too big to remain successful, it is clearly time for MPS to consider creating capacity by opening more Montessoris.

There is an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) training center in Milwaukee, The Montessori Institute of Milwaukee, that helps provide teachers, and the waiting lists show that demand already exceeds supply for Montessori in the district.

Add in that Garden Homes Montessori, which was an MPS contract school, is gone and many of the families there are looking for new public Montessori homes for their kids.

As the WKCE results and, now, this NAACP report suggest, if you build it, they will come. And if they come, they will be successful.

Talkbacks

jmdmilw | July 20, 2011 at 2:19 p.m. (report)

Also a proud Montessori MPS parent, but with a different viewpoint from dukefame -- I think that if more Montessori options were made available at the primary level, our community would benefit. The beauty of the Montessori method is that it nurtures the innate curiosity in very young children, so that they become self-directed learners. And it couples that with a respect for self and others that leads to self-discipline. With that foundation - self-discipline and self-learning, they would - I believe -be more likely to have a chance at overcoming the social/economic challenges that many MPS students face. There are no easy answers to what ails our society; giving kids "a chance" may be the best way to start.

Our school also has a tremendous parent community for which I am very grateful, but in terms of what happens in the classroom, I believe that the Montessori method itself is responsible for the majority of the success. But the method depends upon well-trained teachers and assistants (and enough of them in each classroom). The most important thing for us as parents to do is to continue to lobby to preserve the integrity of our Montessori programs, and to preserve reasonable student-teacher ratios in all of our schools.

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allyt | July 19, 2011 at 10:21 a.m. (report)

There is an Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) training center in Milwaukee, not one affiliated with AMS. The Montessori Institute of Milwaukee has been here since 1989, running both 6-12 and 3 - 6 training courses. Furthermore, it is the AMI that was founded in 1929 by Dr. Maria Montessori to carry on her work.

The quality and standard set down in Milwaukee Public Schools is based on AMI teacher training and AMI standards.

(Ms.) Allyn S. Travis, Executive Director
Montessori Institute of Milwaukee
3195 S Superior Street, Ste. L428
Milwaukee, WI 53207

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CarolV | July 18, 2011 at 4:58 p.m. (report)

Nice article! Glad to see the Montessori Method is working for so many kids, including my own, in a wonderfully diverse school that we love, Fernwood Montessori.

Now (gets up on soapbox), I need a college prep option for my kids that I can count on Mr. Thornton. Too bad many ppl in BV (and other city neighborhoods) don't see many MPS high school options available for college-bound track for their kids. And all those involved parents at Fernwood Montessori, other Montessori schools throughout the city, and other non-Montessori high-performing elementary students (many in BV) are looking for options - We don't need a Montessori High School - just college prep. From my BV vantage point: Reagan has a long waiting list and King is quite far by bus. A few neighborhood kids go to High School of Languages and High School of the Arts too but again, quite far by bus. Private school is cost-prohibitive and not an option for many families. It would be great to see a highly successful neighborhood public high school option for those Fernwood Montessori 8th grade grads (and other high-performing kids in other Montessoris and non-Montessori schools throughout the city including many in BV) where they wouldn't need to ride the bus for hours each day and instead could do their homework, spend time with their family, participate in extracurriculars, get a part-time job. (And then BV families I know wouldn't be clamoring for high school open enrollment or home selling as a last resort and leaving the neighborhood they love to get into another public school system either). (gets down off soapbox)

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dukefame | July 18, 2011 at 3:18 p.m. (report)

All the numbers about MPS Montessori programs are true and they do achieve at a higher rate than other K-8 schools. But as a parent of two and a member of an MPS Montessori School Governance Council, expanding the Montessori offerings is not the panacea that people believe. The number one reason the kids at a school like Fernwood achieve at high levels is due to parental involvement and I mean HIGH levels of parental involvement.

MPS can duplicate the Montessori program at other failing K-8's but unless these schools can get parents involved, they won't necessarily hit the numbers the current schools do.

In addition, I have wondered whether Montessori's open, self motivated style works for kids who really need a high level of direction and monitoring to succeed in school. Just because Montessori works for some, it doesn't work for all.

This is not to say that MPS doesn't have a gem here, because it does with it's Montessori schools and it should be duplicated slowly and with care.

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