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Friday, July 13, 2007

Clark Montessori High School: Ohio Has America's Only Public Montessori H.S.

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Clark Montessori is one of the best things in the United States, and it happens to be a state-supported public school in Cincinnati. It is not a charter school, or a private school. It is a public school in the city system, a magnet open to children of all races and incomes, and it is highly successful. Amazingly successful, really. Kids from the suburbs enroll at Clark, even through their parents must pay tuition.

Seldom does a senior not graduate, and it is rated excellent by the Ohio Department of Education. The graduating classes tend to walk away with millions in academic scholarships that help them pay for college, and almost all go on to university.

Two of my kids are Clarkites, and I sent them there because the school is so damn exceptional. Example: They both spent nearly two weeks of their freshman year backpacking on the Appalachian trail. And there were other adventures that introduced them to the world per the philosophy of Maria Montessori. Clark is small -- only 92 seniors picked up diplomas this year.

I'm mentioning Clark because Thursday I proposed positive posts across the Ohiosphere that would promote our state. (And I missed my own 24-hour deadline to get the post up. Why? I didn't originally intend to include myself, but decided what the heck, jump in.)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has backed Clark and studied it, and calls the Cincinnati public Montessori exemplary.

"The small design promotes opportunities to learn the skills and values involved in teamwork and group decision-making, in long term project management, and in service to the community. These have combined to with Clark's challenging academic courses to proficiency test results that are far above state norms."

This is a public school, a big city school, and it sits there in Ohio defying all stereotypes. It has long been described as America's first and only public Montessori high school, but there may be imitators out there somewhere. And what do they say about imitation -- isn't it the highest form of flattery.

[UPDATE: 5:30 pm EDT: In a comment below, Jill of the always erudite and informed Writes Like She Talks has gently pointed out that purists may not consider the school in Cincinnati a true Montessori. There could be some room for debate because Cincinnati is experimenting with Maria Montessori's philosophy and, so far (more than 30 years) has successfully adapted it to the American standard education model. There is a a lot of additional information in this article about Xavier University's program that produces certified Montessori teachers, (one can earn a master's degree) which is somewhat pioneering and defying of educational conventions in its own right. Xavier is in Cincinnati, and no doubt because of its influence, kids in Cincinnati can start in a public pre-school program and stay with the Montessori philosophy all the way through 12th grade. I suppose Jill is technically correct. Please read what she says below in her comment.]


  1. Bill - I want to be careful here. Two of my three kids attended a Montessori school, private independent. They loved it, we loved it, we still love it and recommend it.

    However, before I sent them, I'd done a ton of reading up on Montessori and I'm guessing since you used that school, you may very well know this as well. And I think it's incredibly important that people understand:

    Maria Montessori's work applied primarily, and she applied it primarily to kids ages 3-6 years old. Any permutation of it after those ages is based on her work, but it's not really Montessori. It may follow and include and mimic and graft techniques and tenets common to Montessori, but in my experience, as well as with the Montessori schools in NEOhio, while the schools retain the name "montessori" through 8th grade in some of the schools here, everyone will tell you that it's not exactly Montessori.

    I think people need to understand that there are principles that are carried into the other grades and ages, but they are Montessori as we know it from the work of Maria Montessori and the Montessori preschools through kindergarten.

    Also - I don't know about any other district, but in my district, many of the grades have teachers who've been trained in alternative education techniques - Bradley, Wilson, Montessori, Reggio Emilia.

    Of course it varies from school to school, district to district, but the point is to be able to match different learning styles with different teaching strengths.

    That's all. :)

    Thanks for profiling this high school. Very creative. (And don't take my seriousness too seriously - I just think that this distinction about what Montessori is and isn't is important for people to know)

  2. Hi Bill - appreciate the update above. This distinction sticks out so much for me because in a region replete with expensive private schools, when I was checking a few out for one of my kids (and decided that the public school actually serves him best), I really wanted to know: how does one school differ from another. And part of what I realized that you can give the upper grades' program any name you want. But still, the Montessori-named 1st through 8th school was really just an indy private with its own program. Which is FINE and a good program for many. But it's not Montessori as their preschool through K was. Yes, it's built on a lot of the same tenets, but actually, many private schools use Montessori-style stuff.

    As do some publics.

    That's why what you describe is so valuable - because it shows that there CAN be flexibility within the public school district to use different methods. There's no good reason not to.