Jeff Bezos Cites a Big Number, but Few Details, in Plan for Low-Income Montessori Preschools

The announcement that Mr. Bezos would start a network of Montessori preschools has made some in the education world wary.

Comments: 43

  1. So as everyone knows, the wealthy and the upper middle class high earners can afford these things for their children. Poor people have a shot at a lottery to get free services, because let's face it, there isn't enough to go around for all of them. They're usually not the best, but they're free, so that's something. What then of the truly middle class, who are too wealthy to get subsidized preschool, but too poor to be able to afford it? Even a modestly priced preschool is going to cost several thousand dollars a year. I'm talking about the children of teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, support staff. They might make 50-100K a year, which isn't really enough to drop 10K on pre school, but is far too much to typically qualify for services offered gratis to the extremely low income. Are those forgotten people not deserving? Some could say they are more deserving because the work they do is critically important for society to function. You can't just go on increasing taxes forever to pay for it either. Most taxes paid come from these very people. The top 50% of taxpayers pay 97% of the taxes. The top 2% pays almost 40%. So from the 50th to 90th percentile, what most people think of as middle class, pays over 50% of all income taxes collected.

  2. @AC really? when a decision is made by a middle class person to have a child, is preschool not even a consideration?

  3. @AC This is exactly what I was thinking. There are many many families that are not extremely poor, but poor none the less and certainly cannot afford private anything. My son teaches 6th grade, he has three kids and barely makes enough to survive.

  4. @pat cannon Playing devils advocate here, because I did consider the costs before having children, and I indeed can pay for it, but why is that same request not made of the poor? It seems that the country as a whole expects the middle class to pay for itself, AND pay for the poor, who are held to no such standard. If you said that the poor should consider financial ramifications before having children, this paper may not have allowed your comment to even post.

  5. As a former owner and certified teacher of a Montessori School, I applaud Mr Bezos mission. During our eight years of operation, we had a number “ scholarship students” who at three years of age had limited communication skills due to their isolation in a poor neighborhood. These students graduated at age 5 reading as well as their classmates. My dream if I were to win the lottery would be to open Montessori Preschools in low income housing districts. Require parent participation in some reasonable form e.g parenting education, Provide “teen assistant training “ and offer summer and after school jobs to better prepare the next generation of parents. And solicit local support to ensure sustainability.

  6. Perhaps Mr. Bezos should do the research before he makes such an announcement. I'm disturbed by the hype that is now a trademark of much of Silicon Valley's announcements, hype frequently undeserved.

  7. Montessori teachers have always been absolutely focused on the children. Jeff Bezos does not need to preach that.

  8. i would hope the bezos and their billions for this project have done their due dilligence behind the scenes before announcing this donation. it appears that the project has caught montessori leadership by surprise. perhaps if amazon paid all workers living wages, paid full medical and offered free preschool for all children of their employees it would be a more humble beginning. i will stay positive and hope for success.

  9. While I the emphasis on Montessori techniques and principles is perfectly fine for the Bezos effort, it would be a shame if the larger goal of providing preschool to needy children is compromised by the daunting challenge of finding Montessori teachers and fighting about what it means to be authentically Montessori. Kids are waiting.

  10. We are middle class, not White. Our older daughter thrived in the Montessori preschool and elementary school setting, as it was a great fit for her own characteristics. Our younger son, whose autism diagnosis was not yet made (atypical symptoms emerging), was different. He was a very poor fit in that room, and the setting was a total horror for him, partly because he needed complete structure, while the Montessori approach of free choice was puzzling and frightening for him and he acted out a lot as a result. What was very disappointing was that these Montessori teachers had no clue how to work with him or with parents in our situation. They adopted a very 'blame-the-parents-and-shame-the-child' approach to a 3 year old. Maybe Montessori works really well with typical children already able to receive that approach. Atypically developing children - not at all. I still don't know whether and how much Montessori teachers are trained in how to handle diverse children, which is really ironic considering what motivated Maria Montessori herself to innovate her methods.

  11. @S Respectfully, I think it's fair to say that a child with undiagnosed autism would present a challenge in any school environment. There are some schools intended to educate children with special needs, hopefully you were able to find a better fit for your son. Best of luck.

  12. How many of your own Amazon employees will qualify? Charity begins in your own business. Amazon customers should demand YOU pay a living wage!

  13. @JeanS ... and provide "full scholarship" to Amazon employees' children.

  14. @JeanS … no one is forced to work for Amazon and no company to my knowledge pays higher wages for the work done by most Amazon lower-wage employees. Instead of asking for charity, why not educate yourself for better opportunities?

  15. My two children attended a Montessori pre-school, and now my granddaughter attends one. The Bezos plan is a terrific opportunity, and could be a vital experience for kids who could use a little more structure in their lives. While article describes the Montessori system as structured and says that it regards children's play as their work, it does not say that it is also gentle and reassuring and supportive of each individual child. These softer attributes are equally emphasized and underlie the success of the system. Bravo Bezos!

  16. Overall, I think this is a net positive for the kids whose lives will be improved by this program. Kudos to Bezos. My kids have attended Montessori school, from preschool to eighth grade, and I worked at Amazon for five years. My kids are both self-motivated and curious learners; Montessori has taught them how to teach themselves. Self motivation and calculated risk taking are valued at Amazon (at least in the corporate HQ) and these are skills that Montessori encourages. What gives me pause is the notion of children as customers. Customers are people you want you something from. I would hope that Bezos’s program heeds Maria Montessori’s vision to allow children to be authentic. It’s also worth noting that Montessori developed her method to serve the children of German factory workers. It would be a good start to open these schools to serve the children of Amazon distribution center employees, many of whom are among the working poor.

  17. @Ryan Boudinot -- I agree with your post and my children enjoyed a Montessori preschool that served them well. When Bezos calls students customers I believe he does want something from them that I have no quarrel with: a better life for them, a more educated citizenry, and a better world for all of us.

  18. @Ryan Boudinot I appreciate and support your comment. Our kids also attended Montessori preschool to eighth grade. I'd like to think that Bezos was framing his child=customer language for those not familiar with Montessori, where the idea of 'following the child' might be perceived as absurd. One note: Maria Montessori worked with children in slums of Rome, who were considered "defective." Rudolf Steiner developed Waldorf for the German factory workers.

  19. (corrected:) Or maybe what Mr. Bezos has in mind, and is escaping his lips ala "freudian slip," is that these kids are his ( burgeoning next generation "customers." In the Simms-Montessori-Bezos outlook, "A Bezos-Montessori educated consumer is 'our' ['s] best customer." These kids, if they being groomed from toddlerhood to worship at the temple Bezos-Amazon, will have a legitimate grievance at their parents and political/civic institutions that fed them into the machine when these children were powerless to resist and had no choice but to trust their elders. How do we know these schools will avoid training the Amazon customer-minions of tomorrow? As Anand Giridharadas ("Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World") persuasively argues and shows, digital age tycoons, even when they mean well, deliberately or even unconsciously mold recipients of their largesse in their own image and interests. So Bezos-Amazon is to dominate lives from cradle through adulthood? Why not beyond that? Soon Amazon will offer its own Cloud-In Vitro. And finally, upon death, Cloud funerals and dowload your spirit into the "Cloud." A new take on Heaven indeed! If you think I'm exaggerating Bezo's god complex, just consider his autobiography title: "Prime Mover," which of course is Aristotle's term for the deity. CAVEAT EMPTOR!!!

  20. Dear Mr. Bezos, Much depends on your building this thing the right way. Find programs that work. Help them expand. Hire great teachers who are already doing the work well. Don't try to roll out a zillion new schools all at once--quality will suffer terribly. Great teaching, Montessori or otherwise, does not "scale" the way Amazon Web Services does. You need patience and you need to build carefully on what already works. If you do this the right way it could be an incredibly important investment in our future.

  21. How about paying Amazon workers a higher wage?

  22. One thing I like about his approach is that he’s doing something that his family did for him and he did for his own kids. Too much of ed reform has been rich people pushing for ‘innovations’ they would never accept for their own families.

  23. There are two Montessori associations that certify Montessori schools. Both attempt to stay true to Maria Montessori's spirit, but they have practical differences not worth illuminating in a comment. Jeff's use of the term 'Montessori-inspired' suggests he may not subscribe to either. It is not essential that he does IMHO. What is indispensable is an overarching framework that insures these Montessori-inspired schools adhere to Maria's philosophy and principles which include self-directed activity, hands-on learning, child collaboration and above all the cultivation of respect. This network must have trained teachers who know how to and are committed to following the whole child through their sensitive periods and trusting in their absorbent minds. If this is Jeff's approach, he will do no harm.

  24. For Montessori application in the teaching and care of children who are homeless, see the work done in Sacramento by the Loaves and Fishes organization's school: Mustard Seed. Bezoses take note, and THANKS for trying to level the playing field for our country's kids, we all need them to do well in life!!!

  25. My godson goes to Montessori school. He not only displays a healthy creativity but also high scores on SAT tests. Highly recommend this method of education.

  26. It seems like a nice gesture on a number of levels, not excluding that many receiving the free schooling will come from families whose mom-and-pop businesses were put out of business by Amazon. It's always nice when the guy driving a solid gold Bentley who knocks you off your bike courteously gives you a band-aid. All are *urged* to read Anand Giridharadas's "Winners Take All: The elite Charade of Changing The World," published this year by Knopf, glowingly endorsed by Michael Sandel among other eminent analysts of the intersection of economics and civic life. This episode is a prime illustration of Giridhatadas's thesis, that the new wave of mogul-philanthropists, throwing around billions upon billions to reform the world, have largely usurped the democratic process, reconstituting society and its institutions in their own technocratic, plutocratic, money-driven image-- even when (as now) these moguls have the best of intentions. The Roman emperors appealed to "circus et pani" to consolidate control, blunt any impulses for full civic liberties. However wonderful these programs may be, their beneficiaries may have "Jeff Bezos" plaques affixed to their hearts for life. There must be another way. Vote democratic, change the laws before we slide irreversibly into pure plutocracy, if we haven't gotten there already.

  27. "Every day, students get three-hour blocks of unscheduled and uninterrupted "work" time." Where did this information come from? There is nothing unscheduled about Montessori education, as far as I understand it. The exact opposite. Maybe the writer is confusing Montessori with Waldorf, where kids are given unscheduled time to do whatever they like. In a properly run Montessori classroom, students spend (organized and well-thought out by the teacher) time on tasks that progressively build cognitive and physical mastery of the subject at hand, whether it's cleaning or math. There should be no chaos, confusion, or kids running around trying to figure out which toy to take from some other kid or what to do next. That is not the Montessori way.

  28. @Amanda I remember a significant amount of individual time, where we would get our own space on the floor and be able to pick our own activity to engage in. The teachers would come around and help us if we needed it. I think that's what they're describing.

  29. @Amanda Perhaps you have some misconceptions about Montessori? A three hour uninterrupted work cycle that is 100% student chosen is a requirement for fully implemented Montessori. Guides certainly offer lessons when a child needs/asks for one, but these interactions are not micromanaged by the adult. Some days I might give many lessons, some days none at all. It all depends on what my students need.

  30. My daughter was in a Montessori school from age 3-12. It was a great experience for her, and I'm thrilled that the Bezos family is spearheading this initiative. That said, the fact that Montessori certifications groups, headmasters/mistresses, and teachers were caught unaware concerns me. They've been at this for a very long time, I can't imagine not wanting to consult with them on best practices, etc. particularly Montessori school with many low income families.

  31. The $2 billion pledge of the Bezos's brings a much-needed focus on the importance of early education. I just wish they had done it a bit differently. Create a fund to back universal pre-school, which is what we should already have in this so-called advanced country of ours. As much as we might pay lip service to it, we Americans seem not to believe in a level-playing field for all. Instead we pursue advantages for some while leaving others behind. Forget about whether or not Montessori is a beneficial educational program (I think it is, when executed correctly). But it may not be the best fit for all kids. The Bezos's can surely afford to conduct research and come up with a plan for ways in which universal pre-school can be implemented all over the country. Now that would be something to cheer about, and better than sending rockets to the moon, if you ask me, though they probably have enough money to do both.

  32. As an educator, I find it telling that Bezos did not first consult the Montessori community. Here's a billionaire who knows nothing about education, and who wants to "disrupt" the "industry", neither of which terms actually apply to education. Children are neither product nor customer. As Plutarch said, "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit." Forget about culture, forget about poverty, forget about race and class and everything else. Just take what works for one demographic and impose it, without consultation or consideration with either experts OR with members of the communities the program is intended to serve, and layer in an anti-union, pro-privatization profit motive and what do you get? Cultural colonialism. Bezos is just another rich white guy whose hubris leads him to believe that he knows what poor communities and communities of color want because they are too stupid to know it themselves -- namely the same values that rich white guys think are important. How could that possibly go wrong? When public education and democracy are laid to rest for good, men like Bezos will just kick back and count their money. The road to hell, best intentions and all of that. We just get fooled again and again and again and again. And by the way... when you discuss this around the dinner table tonight, be aware that Alexa is listening (because you let her in your home.)

  33. Bezos's actions speak WAY louder than his press releases. "Don't Trust Jeff Bezos Preschool Philanthropy Scheme" is a great read on line. He underpays workers and thinks the US government should provide food stamps or health care if they can't make ends meet. He effectively shut down the Seattle City Council's attempt to get him to pay a measly $12 million dollars for a homeless program in Seattle. This pre school program gift is about 1.2 percent of his net worth. Children will be "the customers" not children or even learners or ultimately future citizens. These billionaires conceptualize all society's challenges in terms of market potential. UGH. Don't buy it. Head Start is a GREAT program and costs tax payers $9 billion. It's proven effective. His $2 billion gift is going to use market analysis and do so much better AND address both homelessness and pre school? Right. I say push back against these billionaires and hedge funders when it comes to their real motives of "helping" US school children. They need to 1) pay a decent corporate tax rate 2) pay people a living wage 3) provide benefits for ALL workers 4) Stop swaying public policy just because they can. They know NOTHING about public policy, education, child developmental readiness or teaching and learning. All they know is customers and markets.

  34. No, no ,no. A man like Bezos doesn’t belong near children! When a man as wealthy as Bezos fails to treat his employees with respect and Frickes them to use food stamps and other public programs to feed their families allowing him to be involved in to be involved with children is just plain wrong! But of course MONEY rinses away all sins!

  35. This is fantastic, and if done for the right reasons and in the right places, this could be a game changer for children in need. I learned much about the method when my children attended a Montessori preschool. Maria Montessori developed her program to serve children in poverty using materials to stimulate sensory perception and the development of literacy and mathematical understanding. Classrooms are set up with quality materials that children are drawn to and with which they can work independently or in small groups after introductory lessons from the "directors" - teachers, who must be specially trained. They lead children in discovering concepts that will lead to more difficult concepts later on. The programs promote self-confidence and encourage independent learning. During my three-year-old daughter's first parent/teacher conference, her teacher told me that her favorite activity was working with the binomial cube, an ingenious wooden box that introduces a child to algebraic concepts. Once assembled, blocks form a cube of a binomial, introducing the concept of algebra and preparation for the proof of the formula (a+b)3 - for a toddler! I was duly impressed, and became a true supporter of the method. Another important aspect of the Montessori experience is the "peace curriculum", which guides even very young children to the peaceful resolution of problems - surely this is most valuable in today's world. I cheer the Bezos for this effort!

  36. Give Bezoz a break already. The guy's going to turn out thousands of educated children who, in turn, will add a "positive" to American society. These kids would probably have a much more difficult life without the help they'll be getting. At least he's putting his billions into something positive and not using it for negative political ads to elect some dope to Congress who will continue the ruination of the public schools in America.

  37. South Carolina is a leader in public school Montessori. Many of the schools that offer Montessori programs are located in the rural parts of the state. Many are classified as Title 1. Of the 8000 children in Montessori classrooms more that half are low income. The Riley Institute at Furman University recently completed a 5 year study of these programs . The research found that children in Montessori classrooms out perform children in traditional classrooms. This is particulaly true of low income children. The study was funded by the Self Family Foundation

  38. I am so thrilled about this opportunity for American children to learn in a Montessori environment! Students will be growing up with the understanding that people are different, with unique abilities to understand and grow. Because each child has unique traits and a personal span of attention, children are encouraged to move to new learning opportunities whenever they have a preference. Montessori teachers are careful observers of their subjects, and they become standard bearers of thoughtful etiquette for children learning and sharing within a group. They are also models of enticement, ready to offer knowledge as they approach each student's unique "sensitive period" for learning. The educational materials used in a Montessori Classroom are bright, colorful, and offer numerous challenges so each learner can find their own level of engagement. Finally, there is ample opportunity for children to use their own creativity to dictate how best to utilize the materials for themselves. American children will be blessed with this incredible offer to learn differently. Thank you Jeff Bezos!

  39. The quality of the program depends on the teachers. At my son’s montessori school his classroom teachers were not very good. We had him switch classrooms and there was a positive difference. Other parents in his class switched classrooms or sadly left the program.

  40. I attended a Montessori school in Mount Vernon, NY in the mid 1960's. It was a fabulous experience, and it markedly accelerated my success at the traditional NYC public and parochial schools I attended later in life. Kudos to Jeff Bezos. It's really gratifying seeing the Montessori method get such a huge financial boost--especially for students in poor areas.

  41. I haven’t met anyone from a Montessori school that was noticeably more intelligent, creative, or balanced than any other child. I don’t know how necessary this is over a standard childcare, which is more necessary for the underserved.

  42. This article makes Montessori classrooms sound tyrannical when it is anything but: “Dressing up or talking about fairies or superheroes is not allowed;” “the word “play” is not used”. There are many misconceptions about the Montessori method, but when it is a high-fidelity program, it empowers the young child. While guides avoid using the terminology, described here, children often do. No one silences them. Children in the first plane of development (from 0-6) are directed to reality and observing the world as it is, so that in the second plane (6-12), when the mind is ready, they can abstract. Montessori supports constructive imagination in all its stages of development. (From an AMI Assistant to Infancy)

  43. @Heather Lataille Thank you for writing this! I was thinking the same thing while reading that section!