This week my wife and I went to check out a school that we plan to send our two kids to next year. Although the city we live in (Bellevue, WA) has a good school district, we are not very pleased with the results from the elementary school near us. We considered moving (my wife is a real estate agent after all) vs. sending them to a private school and after taking into account different factors we have decided to send them to a private school.
It's interesting looking at the different schools, each with a different philosophy of learning. My wife grew up in the Russian system, which emphasized rote learning and followed a strict cookie cutter approach. I grew up in a typical public school setting that was not as strict as in Russia but also followed a cookie cutter approach. Even at the time, I felt (and still feel) that this approach held me back as a number of times I attempted to learn foreign languages or go ahead in math only to be told to wait until we get there.
Currently both of our kids go to a Montessori school and in general we like it. Their school is currently a 'loose Montessori' though, because most of the teachers do not receive Montessori training and they seem not to strive to be a member of as many Montessori associations as possible. Still, how they run the school and direct the kids is very similar to stricter Montessori schools that we visited.
While I agree in general with the Montessori approach, one major issue I have with many Montessori schools is it becomes almost a religious debate where schools attempt to follow Montessori guidelines just like one would follow the Bible or the Talmud. In one school, I asked how computers were used. The headmaster replied that he could find no reference to computers in the works of the inventor of the Montessori school (written at the end of the 19th century) and therefore did not include them. Each child worked on a project per the Montessori method but all were required to be absolutely silent and punishment seemed commonplace. Obviously we did not ask for an application there.
The schools we are currently looking at all take some elements of Montessori but are not (nor do they call themselves) Montessori schools. They focus on guiding students at the student's pace towards specific goals, allowing extra gifted students to move ahead at their own pace while still helping slower students. When visiting the classrooms, all of the children were actively learning and enjoying it. I'm sure after we left they gave each kid $5 for looking cheerful but at least to us it seemed genuine. :)