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The standards-based, teach-and-test methods that have come to proliferate secondary education since the inception of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) fail to adequately prepare students for higher education and employment. This system lacks opportunities for developing 21st century skills such as higher-level thinking, problem solving, and group dynamics, as well as opportunities for fostering spiritual growth and personal development. This problem impacts graduates of U.S. high schools because they are unprepared for higher education and the 21st century workplace. Using qualitative multiple case study methodology, this study examined five U.S. Montessori high schools through the lens of cultural-historical activity theory. Interview and blog-based focus group responses and document data were coded line-by-line using predetermined categories and codes as well as open coding. The coded data were analyzed by individual case and then collectively. Findings revealed that education in these settings addressed all areas of development and fostered 21st century skills. Some characteristics that typify Montessori education at lower levels, such as multi-age classes and the prepared environment, played less significant or different roles in the high school programs. Characteristics that were prominent across the cases included use of place-based, experiential learning; building of caring, family-like staff/student relationships; and emphasis on social development. Implications for social change within the Montessori community include informing practice at existing schools and development of teacher education programs. In the broader education community, the consistency in program emphasis, despite diverse school circumstances, suggests a Montessori approach may facilitate social change by inspiring a fresh approach to school reform in high schools.
Curriculum and Instruction Commons, Elementary and Middle and Secondary Education Administration Commons, Secondary Education and Teaching Commons, Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education Commons