by Ida Oberman, PhD



The author of this paper investigates the relevance of Waldorf education for public urban school reform. Based on analysis of survey data from over 500 graduates of private U.S. Waldorf schools, review of documents from the Gates Foundation, and staff-interview and student-achievement data from four public Waldorf-methods schools, she develops the following three-part argument:


1. New three R’s and Waldorf:

Waldorf graduate survey data suggest that alumni identify something that might be summarized as "rigor," "relevance" and "relationship" as key outcomes of Waldorf education.


2. New three R’s and urban public school youth:

The goals have shifted over the past ten years for funders and policy makers alike to encompass more than high test scores. Now, what was “special” for “special children” begins to gain attention as valuable for all. Bill Gates, Jr., and the Gates Foundation are leaders in articulating this shift. Founder and foundation argue for the new three R’s for all. Importantly, for the purposes of this analysis, they backed up their talk with dollars. In 2007 they approved funding for the first public Waldorf methods high school, in the Sacramento Unified School District.


3. Three key findings on urban public schools with Waldorf methods:

a. In their final year, the students in the study’s four California case study public Waldorf methods elementary schools match the top ten of peer sites on the 2006 California test scores and well outperform the average of their peers statewide.

b. According to teacher, administrator and mentor reports, they achieve these high test scores by focusing on those new three R’s— rather than on rote learning and test prep— in a distinct fashion laid out by the Waldorf model.

c. A key focus is on artistic learning, not just for students but, more importantly perhaps, for the adults.

The author concludes by outlining key areas for further research.

Dr. Ida Oberman is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Springboard Schools. Previous professional responsibilities have included: program officer for education at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, classroom teacher for a decade, and co-founder of an alternative public school in Harlem's District three. Dutch born and German educated, she received her BA from Swarthmore and her Ph.D. from Stanford.

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