Friday, January 15, 2010

Waldorf Charter for OUSD?

Community School for Creative EducationCommunity School for Creative EducationCommunity School for Creative Education

The petition for a new charter school in Oakland's San Antonio District (possibly located at 12th St. and 8th Ave.) has been submitted to OUSD. It will go for final approval before the board on January 27th. The petition for the COMMUNITY SCHOOL FOR CREATIVE EDUCATION (CSCE) can be viewed here.

This K-8 school will be based on a Waldorf model and is projected to enroll 256 neighborhood children by 2014, 206 elementary with an additional 50 middle school students. The middle school enrollment will continue to expand for several years. The lead petitioner is a strong figure in the Waldorf community, and many additional Waldorf leaders are on the school’s board, as well as a rep from OCO, a person from the Contra Costa County Office of Education, a lawyer/start-up businessman, a digital communications businessman, the director of UCB's Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity, the pastor co-founder of another charter middle school (W.O. Community, closed in 2006). CSCE has received two grants from the Walton Family Foundation to plan and start-up the school. If the petition is approved they expect to get more grants from the WFF, the Rogers Family Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and more.

CSCE's organizers have been enlisting the assistance of Lotus Bloom Child and Family Resource Center to interest parents in their school: “In the past six months Lotus Bloom has worked closely with the leadership team at the CSCE to provide workshops along with an open house to inform community members about the teaching methods of CSCE.” (Pg. 230) My guess is this is where most of the parent signatures on the petition were acquired.

The school targets students who would normally go to Garfield, Lazear, and Franklin Elementary schools and Roosevelt Middle (it seems like La Escuelita might be affected, too). Page after page of the petition report emphasizes the low-range test scores at those schools, but the fact that each of those schools has made progress with their APIs is not mentioned. For instance:

  • Garfield has risen from 620 (in 02-03) to 693 (in 08-09)
  • Lazear has risen from 626 (in 02-03) to 709 (in 08-09)
  • Franklin has risen from 670 (in 02-03) to 814 (in 08-09)
  • Roosevelt has risen from 597 (in 02-03) to 642 (in 08-09)

The petition report also criticizes those schools for being too large. All of them have experienced declining enrollment in recent years. Here is their enrollment:

  • Garfield has shrunk from 870 (in 02-03) to 687 (in 08-09)
  • Lazear has shrunk from 459 (in 02-03) to 320 (in 08-09)
  • Franklin has shrunk from 784 (in 02-03) to 708 (in 08-09)
  • Roosevelt has shrunk from 933 (in 02-03) to 695 (in 08-09)

The model of education in Waldorf schools was developed by Rudolf Steiner in Germany following World War I. It stresses stress art, music, nature, creativity, etc. The philosophy is derived from a spiritual movement Steiner founded called “Anthroposophy.” The current Wikepedia entry states "Steiner characterized specific races, nations, and ethnicities in ways that have been termed racist by critics including characterizations of various races and ethnic groups as flowering, others as backward or destined to disappear." Because of these types of issues, Waldorf schools being made into public schools has sometimes been extremely controversial.

Several years ago, an organization called "People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS) filed suit against two California school districts alleging that the districts were running religious programs in public schools. The legal battle cost the district more than $300,000 in legal fees."

Read here and here and also here for an Ed Week article about the early phase of that controversy.

Waldorf supporters claim that PLANS " against the community welfare by slandering the work of dedicated teachers wanting to see true education reform." They present their arguments here. I just hope I don't have to watch OUSD get entwined in another messy controversy.

I value creativity and exploration and think kids should get more exposure to some of the activities offered by the Waldorf model, but I personally have difficulty grasping how a Waldorf education will mesh with the dominant accountability/more rigor/testing/standards model that is currently being forced on students -- they seem to be two different animals. Most Waldorf schools have been private schools all along, and of course, private schools don’t have to deal with the things urban public schools are subjected to for the sake of accountability via standardized testing drill and kill.

One of CSCE's supporters even stated in their letter which was included in the petition, “A school that inspires the whole child intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually-would be a welcome contrast to the open court system that teaches to tests.” Here, hear! But I say if we're going to take that approach, then let us take the chains off ALL of the teachers and let them go through that door!

Nonetheless, CSCE is anticipating that it will produce the following spectacular results as School-wide Performance Goals (% students school-wide Proficient/Advanced on CST )



















...but I won't be holding my breath.

And I wonder what Franklin, Garfield, Lazear, and Roosevelt teachers can share with us about the creative opportunities offered at their schools. I believe Roosevelt has a good music program, but don't know much about the other schools.

UPDATE 1/18/10: Katy Murphy at the Oakland Tribune's Education Report has now posted on the story.


Ender said...

I realize I am not exactly popular here after discussing being abused by those who were hired to educate me, but I must say I don't really see the problem here. This is what charter schools were made to do. Teach in a different way that certain students may learn with better with. No doubt this won't be good for all kids, but some kids might learn far more this way. And as I have said elsewhere so many times before... its supposed to be about the kids, not the schools, teachers, jobs, or regulations.

Ted said...

I too think that this is a welcome change that actually "subverts the dominant paradigm." I think that this Waldorf charter will get a pass on the test scores because they are using the charter model. The charter school community is not as interested in test scores as they are in disrupting the public education system. High test scores are more useful to them as club they can use beat up on public schools than they are as measure of achievement. The proponents of this school are using the disruptive potential of the charter model to move in a progressive direction. But the Waldorf method is not for everyone which raises a question that is at the core of the public school issue: Is the era of the common school coming to an end? Will the common school be replaced by a plethora of small schools, each serving a different variety of student? Has the common school become paralyzed as it tries to meet the needs of so many stakeholders: students with a bewildering range of school preparation, ethnicities and learning styles, politicians, taxpayers and unions?

caroline said...

I enjoyed humorist/public school advocate Sandra Tsing Loh's allusion to Waldorf schools, though she's referring to private schools:

"Given that independent-school business (and middle- class urban fear) is booming now, “the front office,” as I call it, is always manned by mercenary professional gatekeepers—the lion-maned admissions directors, the women with important scarves—who let you know, in no uncertain terms, exactly what on your Visa is nonrefundable. But in “the back office,” there is always the gentle little gnome who lives in a woodland cave of the mind. In Los Angeles, this woodland gnome is typically a sweet and fragile eighty-something educator (think wonderfully old-fashioned cardigan, white hair perhaps growing out of the ears) who in Austria in the 1950s invented some sort of benevolent alternative- learning theory whence gently flowers the school’s educational philosophy. If he or she is the emotional figurehead of an independent school (one possibly even bearing his or her name) that now allows in, by breakneck competition, only the most affluent and privileged (with the occasional Savion Glover–brilliant inner-city child, for color; or perhaps an heir of Denzel Washington), thus exacerbating the twenty-first century’s Grand Canyon–like divide between rich and poor, it’s not the helpless and unworldly little gnome’s fault—it’s just something that happened along the way."

coopmike48 said...

Props for Perimeter Primate:

The Perimeter Primate said...

coopmike48: Thanks for letting me know!