Angeline Lillard Dan Addison

A recent study by researchers in the University’s Department of Psychology suggests that the Montessori educational model, which balances child-directed activity with academic content to support “whole child” cognitive and social-emotional development, has the potential to reduce or erase the persistent income-achievement gap for lower-income students. The study, led by UVA psychology professor Angeline Lillard, compared students in a high-poverty U.S. city who were admitted by lottery to two public Montessori magnet schools with children who had lost the lottery and attended other schools instead. The children were assessed over three years on measures including academic ability, executive function and “mastery orientation” (or “growth mindset”—the belief that abilities and mastery can be developed through effort), which are likely indicators of later success. In their report on the study, published in October in the open-source journal Frontiers in Psychology, the researchers noted among other results that the Montessori programs raised the achievement of lower-income students “well beyond” the levels achieved by the lower-income students who attended other schools and “greatly reduced the achievement gap across the preschool years.” In addition, the researchers found that the Montessori programs were more likely to support development of a growth mindset. With these positive results suggesting that the Montessori model has the potential to provide benefits to all students, the researchers called for additional and larger-scale studies to confirm their findings and to determine whether the benefits persist throughout the school years and beyond.