Montessori, an education method that emphasizes self-guided instruction in multi-age classrooms, is widely accepted as an effective way to educate children. Perhaps the greatest strength is that students often leave Montessori schools as confident, independent thinkers.
That said, we disagree with the effort to create a public Montessori charter school in Steamboat Springs. Most concerning is that while the Steamboat Springs Montessori Steering Committee has demonstrated its desire for a publicly funded Montessori school, the group has, in our opinion, failed to demonstrate that such a school is needed.
Charter schools legislation is designed to hold public schools accountable. In marginal and low-performing schools, charters provide parents with much-needed alternatives and can force local schools to improve through competition. But that isn't the case in Steamboat Springs.
Our existing elementary schools Strawberry Park and Soda Creek have proven track records. Their standardized test scores rank with the best in the state. Further, there is broad community support for the current focus and direction of the schools.
Montessori Steering Committee members have not shown the public schools are failing their children or anyone else's. Instead, the group's most fervent argument is that a Montessori school would provide families with an affordable choice in educating their children. That choice is necessary, they say, because the public schools provide a "one size fits all" education that doesn't meet the needs of all children.
But describing the educational approach of the district as one size fits all is simplistic and inaccurate. The district has a stated philosophy of meeting individual students' needs through the use of varied strategies, several of which are very similar to those used by Montessori.
The school district offered to review Montessori methods and incorporate them into its best practices philosophy. This fell short of what the Montessori Steering Committee sought Montessori classes within the existing schools or a separate focus school.
But the reality is the school district couldn't provide either option. The Montessori method calls for each class to have a full-time teacher and a full-time aide and a maximum student-to-staff ratio of 15 to 1. Such ratios and staffing are not financially practical for the school district.
Each time a charter school is created, the local school district loses per-pupil funding from the state for each student who moves to the charter school. Theoretically, that money is being used to educate that student, so a charter school should be a financial wash for the district.
But the truth is, when a handful of students in different grade levels leave for a charter school, the district's expenses don't decrease in an amount proportionate to the funding the district loses.
Last year, North Routt Charter School was launched. The Montessori school would be the second in the Steamboat district. Though there would be a financial impact to the district, it likely would be minimal. But certainly Montessori opens the door to more charter schools that a district of 1,900 students can ill afford to support.
Members of the Montessori Steering Committee say they want choice. In our view they already have one utilize the excellent public schools available in Steamboat Springs or pay to create their own private school. Public funding of a local Montessori school is not justified.