Waldorf Succeeds in Public Schools
by Claudia M. Lenart
The innovative Waldorf methods could provide an enriching education experience for any child, but for most families, a private Waldorf education is unaffordable. Private K-12 Waldorf schools cost an average of $8,000 to $11,000 per year. While some schools offer sliding scale tuition, the education still may be out of reach. Yet “Waldorf methods are so exciting and enlivening for all children that they shouldn’t be reserved just for those who can afford it,” says George Hoffiker, principal of the Yuba River Charter School, a Waldorf method school in Nevada City, California.
Mary Goral, a professor at Mt. Mary College in Milwaukee and director of the early childhood education program, teaches graduate students and teacher enrichment classes on Waldorf-inspired pedagogy for public schools. “I truly believe what is needed in public schools is something much more like Waldorf, something that engages the whole child — body, spirit, and soul,” says Goral.
Other administrators must agree. As of this fall, there will be about ten Waldorf-method charter schools in California and three in
Arizona. Illinois currently has seventeen charter schools, but none are Waldorf schools. Charter schools are state-funded public schools with permission to use alternative curricula.
Those who seek to open a charter Waldorf school may want to look to the nation’s two longstanding and successful public Waldorf schools: Urban Waldorf School in Milwaukee and John Morse Waldorf Method Magnet School in Sacramento, California.
Mark Birdsall, implementor at the Urban Waldorf School, says the students there have done well on tests. They’ve scored above average in the district — despite the fact that 94 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged.
At the Yuba River Charter School, test scores start out lower than average in the lower grades, but by eighth grade, they are in the 75th to 85th percentile. In 1999, the seventh-grade Yuba River class was among the top in the state on its tests. “Our approach is developmental; our goal is to equip students with certain skills as they enter the ninth grade,” says Hoffiker, explaining the shift in scores over time.
Similarly, in Arizona, the Waldorf-inspired Pine Forest Charter School has some of the highest test scores in the state.
Still, the future for Waldorf education in the public schools isn’t easy to predict. One obstacle is finding Waldorf-trained teachers. Already there is a severe shortage of Waldorf teachers.
Another is the obscurity of Rudolf Steiner, which has in some cases led to misunderstanding. For example, in California, there is controversy even as Waldorf methods appear to be reaping rewards in public schools. Dan Dugan, a parent who pulled his child out of a Waldorf school, is suing both the Yuba River Charter School and the John Morse Magnate School, claiming Waldorf methods violate the separation of church and state. Dugan has referred to anthroposophy as a “cult.”
“Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher and he had some far out ideas,” concedes Hoffiker. But, he adds, “so did Einstein, Edison, Piaget, Jung. The idea that you have to take all of Steiner to take a little is ridiculous.” In any case, Anthroposophy is not taught in public or private Waldorf schools, and Hoffiker says he is confident the methods used at the school are legal and that the school will win the suit. One hopes, for the sake of the students, that he is correct.