In the News: Montessori Was the Original Personalized Learning. Now, 100 Years Later, Wildflower Is Reinventing the Model

In The 74, Kate Stringer visits Wildlflower Montessori, a micro-school in Cambridge, Mass. with 15 students, two teachers, and no principal. There are 11 Wildflower schools in an informal network in Massachusetts and Puerto Rico and there are plans to open more schools soon.

Stringer writes

Students guiding their own learning with minimal teacher direction — it’s a personalized learning dream. But this is a Montessori school, following a century-old model that has been doing personalized learning since before it even had a name. That model was the creation of physician and innovator Maria Montessori, who opened her first school in Rome in 1907 and built educational materials around her belief in children’s natural desire to explore their world.

Wildflower Montessori is part of a chain of micro-schools that take Montessori’s model a step further, operating as one-room schoolhouses, led solely by teachers, that aim to make personalization a definition rather than a description of education. Each location supports three grade levels, and although the majority of students are under age 6, ages range from 14 months to 17 years old, depending on the school.

In “School Disruption on the Small Scale,” in the Spring 2017 issue of Education Next, Justin Cohen wrote about Wildflower and other networks of micro-schools.

Such boutique programs offer highly personalized environments on a tiny scale, in a tech-enabled reinvention of the one-room schoolhouse that eschews lockstep schedules and standard curricula for student-led learning. They represent a handful of private schools in the country today, but their rapid growth and embrace of sought-after “deeper learning” goals raise important questions about how to scale and democratize the approach.

“There’s a lot about the institutional quality of schools that feels misaligned with our basic humanity,” said Matt Kramer, CEO of the Wildflower Foundation, which supports a network of micro-schools. “Micro-schools provide a school on a more human level. It’s not just the smallness but also the student-centeredness. Both are important, but they’re separate ideas.”

Education futurists have predicted the disintegration of the 19th-century model of American schooling for many years, but the barriers to that transformation have been limited by both the intransigence of the current system and a lack of imagination about what might replace it. Micro-schooling and its teacher-led, entrepreneurial spirit might solve both of these problems, by evading the old habits, sclerotic bureaucracies, cultural biases against experimentation, antiquated labor arrangements, and low tolerance for risk that prevail in traditional schools.

— Education Next

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