I am a regular education teacher in the public schools and my first piece of advice for parents is to choose an educational method and stay with it. I think that both Montessori and traditional schools have many positive aspects to their methods; however the difficulties arise when one switches one’s children from one method to another.
I do not know much about the Montessori method, but I understand it as a very self-directed, self-motivated style. In the Montessori school that I have visited, the teacher acted more as a facilitator of learning rather than the one who delivers information. Similarly, the children were working at their own pace on a variety of assignments. Thus, if an 8-year-old was capable of working on typically 4th or 5th grade material, that is what she would do. If another 8-year-old was having difficulty with basic concepts, his activities were designed to strengthen those. The teacher provided feedback and help to both at different times.
Believe it or not, there are many teachers in “regular” schools who operate in a similar fashion. In my classroom, I like to have the children working at their individual levels. I want them to experience success at a level where they can succeed. This is a bit more difficult in the “regular” school, because I have a set curriculum that is expected of me for a given year. If my students do not achieve that curriculum, my performance is questioned. I do believe that activities in my classroom are much more directed than in a Montessori environment, but I try to individualize my instruction and provide independent activities for children as much as I can.
One interesting side note that I think is related to this issue is the emergence of a value-added system of assessment in many states. What this means is that in a teacher is expected to add 1-year of development for 1-year of instruction. If a child enters a classroom below grade level, that child should still experience the equivalent of one year of growth during the school year. If a child is advanced, the same is expected. In my opinion, this lends itself very well to the philosophy of the Montessori method.
To conclude, education, in many ways is what you make it. If you are a parent who is highly involved in the learning of your children, you should be able to choose either “regular” or Montessori education and experience success. If you are one who takes a hands-off approach and allows the school to worry about your child’s learning, I doubt that either method will satisfy you. From my experience, a child who switches from one method to the other can experience much difficulty, though. So, choose a system, get involved and stay with it.