One of the big concerns Waldorf educators hear from prospective parents is about the school’s lack of testing. How will we know our children are being well educated? What if they can’t keep up with their hard-driven peers after graduation?
The underlying question is, “How do we know this theory of education works?”
Nov/Dec 2011 Harvard Education Letter reports that: “Waldorf students tend to score considerably below district peers in the early years of elementary education and equal to, or… considerably above, district peers by eighth grade.”
When it comes to alternative education with positive results, The Waldorf school system is not the only educational microcosm to study. Finnish school’s have been a popular news topic lately as U.S. educators try to tease out how their system, like Waldorf, which lacks testing and rigorous early academics, can outperform the U.S. on the very tests it seem to shun.
Findland’s average scores on 2009 PISA tests – ranks them #3 in the world. The U.S. average scores equal rank #17.
The New York Times, in a December article, discussed highlights of a lecture given at a NYC private school by Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture.
In summary, he discussed the Finnish philosophy which, according to the Times reporter Jenny Anderson, “scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s rights for them to start school any sooner than 7.”
To Waldorf parents, these values will ring true, as will the values underpinned in Sahlberg’s quote about why tactics from the Finnish education system will not work if bolted onto U.S. public school policy.
“You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the U.S. it’s based on a belief in competition,” Sahlberg said. “In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.”
This quote, from an NPR article covering the lecture at Minshift.kqed.org, is followed by an analysis of the key factors to Finland’s education success. The culture in Waldorf education mirrors these values:
Teachers are in charge: At Waldorf schools, teachers run the school. The same is true in Finland. “We have very carefully kept the business of education in the hands of educators,” says Sahlberg.
No tests in early grades: Children in elementary school are rarely tested in Waldorf. Sahlberg says, “Finns don’t believe you can reliably measure the essence of learning.”
Teaching is a valued profession: Waldorf schools could not exist without long-term committed teachers and the Waldorf system focuses on raising money to give staff free continuing education opportunities. Henna Virkkunen, Finland’s Minister of Education says, “In Finland, we think that teachers are key for the future and it’s a very important profession—and that’s why all of the young, talented people want to become teachers.”
Teachers are trusted to teach: Like in Waldorf schools, “Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils,” Virkkunen said.
So when parents ask if education systems like these can work, the answer is yes. But don’t take our word for it – go forth and read the research!