Diverse Families, Desirable Schools

Mira Debs, Diverse Families, Desirable Schools: Public Montessori in the Era of School Choice (Harvard Education Press)

paper, 240 Pages 
Pub. Date: April 2019 
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-307-9 
Price: $33.00

In Diverse Families, Desirable Schools, Mira Debs offers a richly detailed study of public Montessori schools, which make up the largest group of progressive schools in the public sector. As public Montessori schools expand rapidly as alternatives to traditional public schools, the story of these schools, Debs points out, is a microcosm of the broader conflicts around public school choice. 

Drawing on historical research, interviews with public Montessori educators, and ethnographic case studies, Debs explores the forces that pull intentionally diverse, progressive schools toward elitism. At the heart of Debs’s book is a thoughtful analysis of the notion of “fit” between parents and schools—an idea that is central to school choice, which is often marketed as an opportunity for parents to find the perfect fit for their kids. By exploring parents’ varied motivations in choosing these schools and observing how families experience—or fail to experience—a “good fit” after having chosen a particular school, Debs makes an original contribution to the literature on school choice and sheds light on the dilemmas entailed in maintaining diversity in progressive charter and magnet schools.

Praise for Diverse Families, Desirable Schools

“Through interviews with parents and school personnel, Debs grapples with both the promise and the challenges of implementing a more psychologically optimal form of education. Debs’s book is a tour de force that will assist and inspire everyone who sees education as a means to bring us closer to a truly integrated society.”— Angeline Lillard, professor of psychology, University of Virginia

“Mira Debs provides a fascinating and unprecedented window into the development and expansion of Montessori education in the United States. She complicates the stereotype of Montessori as an elite and exclusive movement, making this book a must-read for anyone concerned about bringing alternative pedagogies to a more diverse group of students.” — Dana Goldstein, bestselling author of The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

“In this fascinating book, Mira Debs shatters the stereotype that white families want open-ended creative learning while black families want ‘No Excuses’ schools that emphasize structure and discipline. In fact, as her brilliant analysis of Montessori schools shows, families of all backgrounds are coming together in diverse-by-design schools, where their children can become empowered thinkers rather than obedient rule-followers.” — Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow, The Century Foundation

“While research in the sociology of education has long considered whether choice schools are academically superior to traditional public schools, a major contribution of Debss book lies in the interrogation of school choice as a socially constructed process. A key concept in the social construction of school choice is the idea of fit. Whether a school of choice “fitswith a particular student or a particular family is a social construction that is correlated with parentssociodemographic characteristics.” — Amy Langenkamp, Professor of Education, University of Notre Dame, American Journal of Sociology

“With the release of this book, Debs has initiated a frank and necessary conversation about the role of equity within Montessori education” – Katie Dulaney, Penn State, American Journal of Education

A comprehensive and vibrant summary of this evolution [of public Montessori since the 1960s] . . . Debs is a Yale professor who cares deeply about the grassroots evolution of Montessori in the public sector and its future, broadening the Montessori mission to the greater whole of social reality schools and in the preparation of teachers.” — David Kahn, NAMTA, Montessori Collaborative World Review


Parents & Educators respond to the book

“I think this book should be required reading for public Montessori teachers. I have worked in Montessori for 17 years and I was surprised at how much I wasn’t aware of. I have already changed some of my daily practices based on the information I gained for this book. Thank you.” — Kamweli Wilson, teacher, Moore Montessori, NC

“This book was great reading for me! I’m a public school principal but not Montessori trained, so it helped me learn more about the history of public Montessori and know where our school fits into that larger context.” — Kristin Garot, Montessori Borealis, Juneau, Alaska

“I am inspired by Diverse Families, Desirable Schools for so many reasons – but grateful for the holistic look at the Montessori evolution in the United States and for sharing the experiences of families in a variety of settings. I feel like I can understand more perspectives in my own community and feel motivated to dig deeper my students and families. The community reading was nourishing for me as an educator. It’s such a gift to connect with more people working in Public Montessori.” — Emily Ahsoon, teacher, Urban Montessori, Oakland, CA

“Moving from traditional educator to educational advocate to Montessori parent has been an interesting journey. This book helped guide me through how to better advocate for underserved communities through public education. It also helped put into eloquent words my own concerns with Montessori.” – South Carolina Montessori parent