Living and working in New Zealand where there is an eclectic mix of Montessori trainings has gotten me thinking about an external assessment for teachers. Let me explain through the following example…
I attended a small rural high school with less than 400 students in the whole school. Maybe 15% of the graduating class went straight to a 4 year college program. Only one AP (Advanced Placement) course was offered and then only if you made a special effort to enroll in the test (3 members of my class chose to enroll). The school offered classes in Horticulture, Horse Husbandry, and Welding that were at least as well enrolled as Chemistry, Physics, and advanced Math. Most of my classmates were farm kids and FFA (Future Farmers of America) was a well respected student group.
My wife attended a suburban high school just outside Detroit with over 1000 students. Her school offered many AP courses and a far greater percentage of graduates went directly into a 4 year college program. I doubt there was an FFA chapter at her school.
When my wife and I applied to colleges we were both required to submit transcripts with our GPA (Grade Point Average), and we were required to submit scores from a standardized college entrance exam (SAT or ACT).
GPA is an internal assessment, meaning the method of testing and evaluated answers was determined within each individual system (each school was different) while the SAT or ACT was an external assessment, meaning the method of testing and evaluating answers was determined outside individual systems and is therefore consistent. GPA is useful to look at general patterns of work and achievement within a system, but if you are comparing applicants from different systems an internal assessment is almost useless.
At first glance, my wife’s high school does a much better job of preparing students for college and admissions officers might favor students from that school. So I would be at a disadvantage just because I grew up in rural Iowa.
The SAT and ACT ares private companies who created tests to deal with this concern. Students take this external assessment, which removes all sorts of biases including: how easy or hard a teacher grades, the socio-economic level of the community, how much pressure parents apply to the school and teachers, etc… A 1600 SAT score is a 1600 whether you attended a private college prep school with professors as teachers or if you were homeschooled. The external assessment is unbiased.
Okay, now I’ll bring it back to Montessori.
Let us say that many people apply for the same job, and each received training from a different organization. AMI, AMS, NAMC, or any of the dozens of other training centers. Diplomas are internal assessments and do not help the hiring committee assess understanding of the Montessori Method. Of course an interview can do this, but you need a knowledgeable person interviewing and lots of time to ask in depth questions. Brand new schools may be unlikely to have a knowledgeable person to help interview.
So now we are left relying on training center biases to assess teachers, and I believe this is a source of much of the bad blood in the Montessori community. I received AMI training, and of course I think it was the best possible training, the Harvard or Oxford of Montessori training. There are those who may disagree, but even if we grant that a particular training is the best, I think it is unfair to base our assessment of a persons understanding solely on which training they graduated.
What if a person attended a really great training and just didn’t “get it”, or consider the natural prodigy who attends a “lesser” training and is black listed despite their amazing talents because they didn’t know that the training was “lesser” when they enrolled.
I think it is interesting to consider an external assessment for Montessori. Of course there would be some problems (criticisms of the SAT and ACT questions, methodology, and evaluation are common) but it might be a worthwhile exercise to construct an assessment that measures understanding of the Montessori method. An assessment of this sort would provide an unbiased measure for new schools hiring teachers, or for schools open minded enough to accept more than one training. Just as the SAT and ACT are private entities, I think such an assessment could be created independent of any existing training organization.
As an interesting side note, an exam of this kind might also measure the relative effectiveness of various trainings. For example, if correspondence courses score statistically different (either better or worse) than face-to-face courses this would provide empirical evidence regarding the value of correspondence training. I would expect that any training that thinks it does a good job would be eager for the chance to prove it.