Friday, September 24, 2010

Fulbright Spring Seminar Follow Up

On September 17-19, 2010, the German Fulbright Commission, in conjunction with UW-Milwaukee's Center for Internationl Studies, hosted te Fulbright Teacher Spring Seminar Evaluation Meeting here in Milwaukee. I was fortunate enough to be invited. I was also able to invite Ms. Inga Poetzl from the German Fulbright Commission to come to USM to meet with administration, faculty, and students.

Friday evening, Fulbright and the Center for International Studies at UWM hosted the seminar participants to a River Walk food tour. The highlights included a visit to he Fonzi shrine and some great cheese.

The program itself was held at the Hefter Conference Center. It included a presentation from Dr. Albert Brugger of the German Immersion School and a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of the German vs. the U.S. school systems. Dr. Brugger applauded the flexibilty of the American system and its decentralized nature. Most participants agreed that the U.S. system was very good at preparing some kids for college, but offered little to the college bound students, in sharp contradistinction to the German tracking system.

The afternoon session was a debriefing which included discussions about follow up with German schools, problems getting help from administration, and some brainstorming about institutions and funding agencies. What was most striking from the USM perspective was the lack of support for professional development given to most of our peers in public schools. Horror stories abounded about principals and superintendants who blocked student exchanges and professional development. Among the follow up options that were pursued have been: full on exchanges between German and American school; blogs and skype exchanges between German students and American students; and hosting German teachers on their own Fulbright exchanges.

As for USM's follow up, I have set up a Challenge 20/20 partnership with Constanze Hahn in Borna. This is a NAIS sponsored competition that has students from different countries cooperating to develop solutions for Global problems. Constanze and I agreed that we would concentrate on environmental problems, especially water. USM will kick off its participation by attending the Kennan Institute Water Conference which will be held at the Pabst on September 29. Also, students on the USM Spring Break Central Europe Study Trip will have the opportunity for home stays with students and their families in Borna.

On a last note, USM alumna Sara West Tully, is the head of UWM's Center for International Studies.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My last stop on my Germany tour was Bremen, where I visited my dear friend Karl-Ludwig Sommer and his family. They live near Lilienthal, located east of Bremen in Niedersachsen in what is called the Spechgurtel, or “fat belt”, surrounding Bremen where many commuters who work in Bremen live. My friends live in an old farm house. I stayed with them while I conducted research on the shipbuilding industry that once drove Bremen’s economy.

I have many connections with Bremen. My grandfather, Eldon Burke, was the shipping expeditor for the Council of Relief Agencies Licensed to Operate in Germany (CRALOG) from 1946-1951. He eventually married his former secretary from those days, a Bremen woman named Marie-Louise Brill. I have come to know “Tante Marli’s” relatives, the Boeme family and keep in touch with them. I should point out that my mother also lived in Bremen for a time in the 1940s and I visited her old friend from those days, Brigitte Lauth.

As you can see, Bremen is a wonderful city, and the surrounding country side is simply beautiful. I always feel like I am walking through a painting by Hans am Ende or other painters of the Worpeswede school which is near where my friend Lu lives.

After my time in Bremen, I took an early morning train to Frankfurt Airport, via Hannover, and flew to Chicago and from there to Milwaukee. In all, my travel time was 22 hours.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

School Visits in Borna and Neuruppin, June 19-25

School Visits, June 19-25

I visited two schools to explore exchanges. I specifically requested two schools in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). I hoped that I would be able to ask teachers what their experiences had been during “Die Wende” or turn that ended the East German regime and led to Germany’s reunification in October 1990.

The first school was in Borna, near Leipzig, in the cradle of East Germany’s brown coal mining region. Ms. Constanze Hahn and her husband Jens-Ulrich were wonderful hosts who treated me to a traditional 70th birthday party for Jens’ aunt and to a tour of the Tagebau (strip mined areas) and Colditz castle, site of many World War II escape efforts by British and Canadian prisoners of war.

The school, Gymnasium am Breitem Teich, was founded in 1873 and now has over 800 students. I toured the school and presented to English classes about Milwaukee’s German past, the German roots of the University School, and Milwaukee and USM today. Students were especially interested in the racial make-up of present day Milwaukee. They were also very curious about sports at American high schools and the daily schedules. Both German high schools that I visited had block scheduling, with 90 minute periods punctuated by 30 minute or longer breaks. Teachers have to cover for each other’s classes (no substitutes), and everything must be signed for each daily lesson plan. I also met with the head of the school, Dr. Schade, who encouraged Constanze and me to work on an exchange.

The last night in Bad Lasick, Constanze and her husband had friends over to celebrate Jens’ birthday. I was treated royally and I hope to get the opportunity to reciprocate.

The following day, June 22, I stopped in Leipzig for five hours before continuing on to Neuruppin. Leipzig is a simply beautiful city and was the focal point of anti-government demonstrations in 1989. I visited the permanent historical exhibit on the GDR and the turn, as well as enjoying a wonderful, sunny day viewing the squares and architecture of this beautiful city.

My next stop was Neuruppin, which is situated about 50 kilometers outside of Berlin. My hosts, Olrik and Sandra Priesemuth and Heiko Haschke, treated me as if I were a long lost brother. I had a fun day at the school, where I took in a student play (Tod fuer Anfanger) and presented in two English classes followed by a tour of Neuruppin, the home town of author Theodor Fontane. Heiko and Angelika took me on a tour of Berlin, where we watched soon-to-be-vanquished England play soccer, before we hustled back (200 kmph+ on the autobahn) to wathc the German national team at the high school. After the German victory, I participated in a shoot off of 11 meter shots in the first ever night time use of the playing field at the school under the new lights. (Leider, habe ich mein Elfmeter verschossen).

Again, the signs are good for a long-term relationship between USM and the Evangelischen Gymnasium in Neuruppin. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca, “This looks like it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Goodbye to Tubingen

Like all good things, so must my stay here in Tubingen come to an end. We have visited our last school, and we will debrief with the Fulbright Commission tomorrow. Then, it is off to Borna where I will visit the Borna Gymnasium for three days. I will be staying with the below pictured class. Included are some last images of Tubingen.

Baden Wurttemberg Works on School Integration

June 16, 2010 Integration of Students with Migrant Backgrounds

We drove to Stuttgart to visit the Schickhardt Gymnasium, attend a presentation at the Baden Wurttemberg Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sport (Kultus, Jugend und Sport), and to debrief with teachers of immigrant backgrounds.

I attended a meeting with the principal, two teachers, and five students at the Schickhardt Gymnasium to discuss their school and the issues facing immigration. This school is for gifted students, in this case girls who are in elite sports such as volleyball and soccer. The principal noted that he worked hard to use the same intensity that students bring to their sports to steer them to academic excellence. The school is special in that it gives student athletes the flexibility to pursue elite sports yet still attend a normally functioning school. The example that the principal used was a student with a big volley ball match on a Sunday could not be expected to take a test on a Monday, but would be given the chance to make it up on Tuesday. Some students might come with language deficiencies, but they are asked to attend special tutorials to make up such shortcomings, especially in written work. It should be emphasized that although each Gymnasium has a special focus, the Abitur is centrally written and administered and all students in Baden Wurttemberg have to take it. As for students with immigrant backgrounds, the school has worked hard to retain teachers with migrant backgrounds, two of whom we met.

I asked the students what questions they would want to pose to American students. They asked what American students think about Germans? Are their tests mostly multiple choice exams? Is there something wrong with the American school schedule that allows so much time in the summer? Their favorite music is Lena, Xavier Nadoo and the Fantastic Four.

That afternoon, we visited the Baden Wurttemberg Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport in the New Palace in Stuttgart. This castle was leveled by American bombing and was renovated in the 1950s and 1960s. According to the spokesman, Siegmut Keller, it now houses the economics ministry and the culture and education ministry. The ministry is in charge of curricula, building schools, overseeing 120,000 teachers and staff, administering the central Abitur among other issues. It is also charged with developing integration programs for children with migrant backgrounds. This is made difficult because they have no data on how many of these children exist because they only keep information on foreign born. This brings us back to the peculiarity of the German concept of citizenship based upon blood as opposed to place of birth. Although there were changes in the 1990s extending citizenship to children born in Germany who wish to renounce the citizenship of their parents and take up German citizenship, they are still not integrated into Germany society, as noted in an earlier entry. This is a special issue in Baden Wurttemberg because of the large migrant proportion of the population (37% of Stuttgart’s population, 25% of all of B-W). Another issue is the problem of Islamic religious instruction in B-W. There are 12 Islamic programs in B-W.

The goals of Baden-Wurttemberg’s integration policy are as follows:

1. Language competence.
2. Cooperation with parents.
3. Intercultural competence of Teachers
4. Individual support for students with migrant backgrounds.
5. Cooperation with foreign consulates to teach the mother language of the students.
6. Train and retain more teachers with migrant backgrounds.

Later, we met with teachers with migrant backgrounds and explored such issues as the use of the mother tongue by students from migrant backgrounds. Should this be allowed at schools between classes and at lunch? Another issue was parents with migrant backgrounds. The support of migrant parents for the mission of the school and the inclusion of parents with migrant workers in the school culture were deemed critical. This portion of the program ended with a presentation from a teacher of a program of Islamic religious studies at a school in Baden Wurttemberg.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Dual System and Its Promises

In the afternoon of June 14, we had a presentation by Knut Becker from the Landesinstitut fuer Schulentwicklung of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg over the German System of Vocational Education and Training. Herr Becker concentrated on the system of dual training as a means for providing businesses with the skilled workers they need and students with a rewarding career option outside the Gymnasium track. Apart from full time vocational schools that give students a final qualification that is recognized through a school certificate, there also exists a system of dual training. This gives one a state recognized training certificate but also a certificate from the Chambers of Commerce (Handelskammern) recognizing that the completion of the course of the apprenticeship. Both of these courses take approximately two, three, or three and one-half years depending on the student. The Dual system is approximately 25% at school, where the student continues such topics as German, math, science, humanities and foreign languages as well as vocationally oriented course material such as applied math, technical drawing, and technology. The other 75% is on-the-job training. Businesses bear 80% of the cost of this system. So, a student would be at the job 3-4 days a week and at school 1-2 days per week. One signs on to this with a training contract approved by the Handelskammer which lays out the state recognition of the occupation, the designation of the occupation, the duration of training, the profile of the training occupation (minimum requirements) and overall training plan and examination requirements. The contract also stipulates conditions that must be fulfilled by the employers, such as protections against termination and allowance to pay the trainee during the period of the dual system training. The dual system provides training for every sector of the economy and for different specialized occupations. Again, the Germans use the word competence to describe the various skills that one receives from the dual system in the form of specialized skills needed for the occupation, methodical skills such as problem solving and organization, and social skills (people skills). The favorite occupations for young men include motor vehicle mechanic, painter, electrical fitter, joiner, retail, cooks, business specialists, mechanical engineers, bricklayers, and IT. Among the favorite occupations for young women are commercial clerks, retail, hairdresser, physician’s assistant, dental employee, slaes, banker, hotel specialist, sales person. During the training, the student receives a wage depending on the occupation. These wages average about 600 euros per month in the West and 500 in the East. The advantages for industry are that German firms secure the skilled labor they need, it reduces the costs of settling in a new worker, it increases loyalty to a firm, it provides the firm with employees who have job specific qualifications and increases productivity. The Dual System is embedded in the web of industrial, social and governmental institutions that make up the German system of corporatist interest group intermediation. The states issue curricula for part time vocational schools, finance teaching staff and supervise the activities of the Handelskammer. Industry works with employer and unions to draft proposals for the creation of new and updating of existing training occupations, nominate experts for participation in the drafting of training regulations and negotiate provisions in collective agreements, including the amount paid in the allowance for the trainee. The Handelskammer, which are self-governing bodies, advice the stakeholders in the training, supervise training in the company, verify the aptitude of companies and training instructors, register training contracts and administer examinations. This entire system costs about 17 billion euros, with private companies bearing about 85% and the states 15% of the costs. This system is open to all school graduates, even those coming from the Gymnasia. It can also serve as a gate way for some to go on to a research or technical university. For instance, Daimler Benz might hire a student, and then give them the option of going back to the university, receive a stipend, but then be obligated to work for the company afterwards for a period of years. Of the 9 million pupils in general education in 2008, 2.9 million were at full time vocational schools and 1.6 million were apprentices in the dual system program. This system dates back to the middle ages, but is still a stable part of the German economy and is seen by German manufacturers as indispensable.

Teacher Training at the University

June 14, 2010

Workshop: New Trends in Teacher Training: Personality Development
Regina Keller and Dr. Philipp Thomas

According to Dr. Thomas, Baden-Wurttemberg has been conservative as far as treating personality development of teachers as a serious topic for pedagogical study. This is problematic as demonstrated by research results that reveal that those who choose teaching are more prone to burn out than those who choose other professions.

What they are trying to do at TU is to give students internships earlier so that they can determine whether or not teaching is really “for them”. The benefit is that teachers will reflect on what they are doing self-consciously and gain competencies that purely theoretical study can’t give them. For instance, very early on in their course of study, students are asked whether or not they have voluntarily worked with children before and, if not, they are encouraged to get some experience, for instance by tutoring children. If you discover that you do not like kids, then teaching is probably not for you. Therefore, the Tubingen is including in its Teaching degree program two courses geared towards developing what they call professional competencies.

Prior to studies, students will test for teacher’s competencies on line and carry out a two week orientation practicum which will answer the question “What can I expect as a teacher”? Then, during basic studies, there is a first module of professional competence which concentrates on “Mental concepts” which answers the question “what do I need to know about the teaching professional outcomes”? It focuses on the role of the teacher. This could be done more as a practicum, but the University of Tubingen is jealous about its place as a research institution, and views practical pedagogical classes as something best kept at the Padagogische Hochschule level which is the more appropriate area for vocational education for teachers of Real and Hauptschuhe. Therefore, this course is taught as a lecture course. In the fifth semester the students have their practical semester in the classroom. Then, during the main course of study, teachers attend a second module which focuses on role play and practice at dealing with difficult situations in the classroom. Such issues as body language, parent communication, and intercultural relations are examined.

It should be noted that out of 300 credit hours needed for a degree, Didactics and Pedagogy are only 28 hours and do not carry grades. This reflects the elite bias of the “Universitäten” which until recently only gave degrees for content area which were assumed to be sufficient for teaching at the Gymnasium.

Discussion ranged over what types of professional competencies would be good for young teachers to develop. The German teachers discussed such aspects as perceived self-efficacy (their example of the young teacher who feels self-confident enough to demand that the Hausmeister carry out tasks); internal self-attribution vs. external attribution (this seems to be jargon that you shouldn’t blame your self or take affronts as personal attacks, rather try to see things in a larger context); and a sense of permission to attend to one’s own needs (taking a night off to watch the soccer match instead of grinding ahead to grade those papers).

Regina Keller then discussed her class for the second module on teacher competencies. She uses a case study method of scenarios gleaned from her experience as a classroom teacher. Again, it came up that this course was not for credit, because the University did not see Didactics as meriting status at a research institution that grants PhDs such as Tubingen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heidelberg ist aber auch ok

Der Rhein: Deutschlands Strom, Nicht Deutschlands Grenze

The PISA Shock Engenders Change in Baden-Wurttemberg

Friday, June 11, 2010
Jörn Steinmeyer of the State Institute for School Development and Education in Stuttgart discussed Quality Development and Standardization in the School Systems. This movement came about in response to Germany’s poor showing in the PISA tests that were administered world wide in 2004. Germany’s place below most other EU countries (and many developing countries) have led to an attempt to recalibrate standards to better measure and promote student achievement. What has come out of this has been a three level system:

1. Level I: The printed standards for Bildung (a loaded term).
2. Level II: Performance Indicators (Niveaukonkretierung)
3. Level III: Implementation Aid which includes core curriculum, didactic materials and performance indicators.

Herr Steinmeyer noted some of the obstacles to implementing these reforms, not the least of which was the fact that the standards were only available on the internet and 80 percent of the teachers in BW use the internet only infrequently. Moreover, because teachers have civil service status as well as a very strong union, there is almost no accountability of their performance after they have been through their first two years.

Germany and the European Union

June 10, 2010

Germany and the European Union, Professor Dr. Rudolf Hrbek, Tuebingen

Professor Hrbek noted that the impulse toward the European Union came from the historical memories of the period of 1914-1945 and the experience with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Many exiles believed that they had an obligation to give the continent a new architecture. This desire was further included in the Basic Law of the new Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, which was inspired in part by a determination to provide world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe. The goal of peace and security, therefore, were interwoven with European cooperation after 1945.

With the Federal Republic, part of this project entailed becoming ensconced in larger, supranational organizations such as those provided by the Schuman Plan that created in 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community. This was continued with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the creation of the European Economic Community.

Additionally, this conflated with West Germany’s quest to rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War and its participation in the Marshall Plan. This led, however, to the division of Germany between East and West and a continuation of West Germany’s semi-sovereign status until 1990, at which time the occupation of a unified Germany finally ended.

The European Union embodies certain values: freedom, rule of law, basic human rights. There is almost no area that is not affected by these assumptions and policy integration. On the one hand, there is an insistence of co-responsibility, with certain competencies shared and others the exclusive interest of the EU. In this, Brussels must give convincing reasons why something must be done. It cannot unilaterally implement a policy without the acceptance of a majority of its members. On the other hand, member states have to understand that when they joined this club they were required to adhere to its rules. Sometimes, a country has to accept the fact that its views are going to be in the minority and that its national self interest will suffer.

The EU has undergone a series of enlargements, starting in the 1970s with Ireland and the UK, and followed in the 1980s with Spain, Portugal, and Greece, all of which had only recently thrown off the yoke of an authoritarian regime. While serious economic rationales existed for denying them membership, the political need to foster and welcome these budding democracies more than outweighed any fiscal trepidation. This expansion was followed by the addition of Finland, Sweden and Austria, and 10 new members allowed in by 2004. At present, there are four candidate lands, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Turkey. Professor Hrbek doubted whether Turkey would be allowed in, but would continue in a sort of “special relationship” with the EU.

In response to the question as to how one becomes a candidate, there are the so-called Copenhagen Criteria which lie in three groups:

1. Political criteria: Rule of law, a transparent system, and basic human rights, such as protection of ethnic minorities.
2. Economic system: The nation must have a level of development commensurate with a nation in Europe and market mechanisms.
3. Each potential member must have state capacities to administer EU policies and distribute EU structural funds. These member states must be able to implement EU policies and apply rules.

The EU distributes about 200 billion Euros each year in agriculture and regional policies aimed at redistributing wealth from payer nations such as Germany to recipient nations such as Ireland.

When asked what impact the German federal system would have on the implementation of the Bologna Accords, Professor Hrbek was emphatic in pointing out that this was a function of the Council of Europe, not the European Union. The Council of Europe was begun in 1949 to oversee cultural policies. This body includes such nations as Russia. EU educational policy focuses on exchange of students. In Germany, the Basic Law leaves all matters of education, culture and the media are the exclusive powers of the German states. Merkl and representatives have an educational summit to try to harmonize national educational policy, but whatever is instituted under the EU or the Council of Europe, it is a matter for each state to respond autonomously. There exist joint committees and institutions to coordinate amongst the states. It has to be noted that the German states were creatures of both historical developments as independent kingdoms that antedate German unification in the 19th century, but also that they were administrative and governmental units that functioned after 1945 before the creation of the Federal Republic’s creation in the spring of 1949.

To summarize, Professor Hrbek noted that in public surveys, the EU is generally seen in a negative light, but when specific issues such as controlling immigration, security, or the break-down of the economic system with Greece, public opinion sways in the other direction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Challenges of Multiculturalism


Frau Dr. Professor Elisabeth Rangosch-Schneck, a professor at the University of Tuebingen who specializes in teacher training and is concerned with diversity issues gave a workshop on diversity in the classroom. Her talk was divided into three parts, giving an overview of the composition and the condition of Germany’s immigrants. This is especially important given the low birth rate of Germans and the increasing proportion of immigrant born (or with migrant backgrounds to use the German euphemism). According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, by 1996, out of 80 million Germans, 7.3 million were foreign born. The proportion of the population that had migrant roots is 18 percent, and in a city like Stuttgart, it is nearing 40%. The Germans changed the citizenship laws beginning in the late 1990s to give those children of immigrants who were actually born in Germany a choice to renounce the citizenship of their parents and take on German citizenship. This is especially important given the significant proportion of the German population that is Turkish, the Turks having comprised a massive wave of so-called “Gastarbeiter” starting in the 1960s following Italians, Greeks, and Yugoslavs. One last note is that in Germany prior to the 1990s, citizenship was strictly according to blood as defined by a pre-World War I citizenship law.

This has had enormous ramifications for the school system, especially in a city like Stuttgart where a large percentage of the population is comprised of the children with migrant origins. In the school, the second part of the talk, the teachers and the structures of the school are adapting only belatedly to this new reality. For instance, religious instruction has not heretofore been provided to Muslim children, causing Turkish parents to keep their kids home until first grade. This is problematic because of the German-only focus of instruction that is delayed by the non-German speaking Turkish parents. Added to this is the lower socio-economic status of migrants, lower educational attainment of migrant parents, which translates to a much lower percentage of children with migrant status matriculating to the Gymnasium track.

Compounding all of this is a complete lack of data about race and ethnicity. There have been no systematic censuses of German schools and the citizens for decades. In Hamburg, for instance, 10% of all teachers have to come from migrant backgrounds, but this has to be based upon self-reporting of teachers on a voluntary basis. In other words, this is purely guess work.

A last issue is the atmosphere at schools where crucifixes are prominently displayed, Turkish is forbidden even at recess, and it parental engagement is not developed. Bavaria, for instance, has made it clear that Catholicism is the basis of their educational values. So, how does one engage these students and encourage them academically? Well, I’ll get a chance next week when we meet with students and teachers of migrant origin in Stuttgart. Stay tuned!

German University System Is Changing

June 9, 2010

Nicole Sauer of the Department for International and EU Relations of the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Baden Wuettemberg gave a presentation about the higher education system in BW. One of the interesting issues she addressed was the structure of the Arbitur, or the exit exam for those students on the Gymnasium track. These tests are centrally administered, take the form of three written and one oral exam, and are graded by a committee consisting of student’s teachers and a member of the Kultus Ministerium. To pass this test with at least a four (1-6 is the grading with the 1 being the best), opens up most areas of study at the university except those defined by the “Numerus Clausus” such as law and medicine which have a limited number of slots and which require a certain high passing grade.

Other interesting aspects of the system are the title reserved to PhD granting research institutions. Only these may use the phrase Universitäten, although many technical Hochschule use the word University in their English names. Another aspect of the system were the so-called Duale Hochschule which are for students to be employed at German firms. These firms (for instance Daimler Benz) would contract with this school to help pay the education. The students alternate between three months of on-the-job training with three months of theoretical training at the Hochschule. Also remember that the term Studenten is reserved to College age students and that a Hochschule connotes a college, not a high school. High school and younger students are Schuler and Schulerin. They are studying an der Schule.

The old University system had a six year degree that ended in either a Diplom (science), a Magister (Masters of Art) or a Staatsexamen for teachers, lawyers and doctors. The new system, instituted by the Bologna Reforms, which are trying to systematize and harmonize academic standards within 40 nations (NOT limited to the EU, for instance it includes Russia), for the sake of facilitating student and faculty exchanges and labor mobility through standardization of credentials. This system in Germany, which is now being phased in, is a Bachelors of general study which lasts 3 years and a Masters in which a student specializes that lasts 2 years.

The last reform, that drives German students nuts, is the 500 Euro charge per semester paid by students in BW. It should be noted that this is specifically to be used ONLY for more faculty, not for infrastructural improvements. The major complaint is that this undermines the solidarity derived from a system of free education that rewards merit over family wealth. However, this charge is variable according to income and lower income individuals qualify for BAFOG grants that essentially give free money for students from lower income brackets who attend Hochschulen and Universitaten.

One problem with the above reforms is that it has diluted the prestige of the once-mighty German Magister or Diplom. In one instance, according to Frau Sauer, a Malaysian school refused to honor a German applicants Bachelor’s degree.

Goethe Did Not Sleep Here

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Big Decisions at the Grundschule

On the morning of June 8th, part of our group visited the Grundschule Innenstadt which teaches grades 1-4. It is also the launch pad where the choices are made about the future tracking of the children after year four (10 year olds). Although Tuebingen, because it is a brainy university town, has an abnormally high percentage of students going into the Gymnasium track (5-13), the choices are made at this stage by the faculty and administration of the elementary school. We joined the principal while she taught one of her classes, a fourth grade English class that included her character of Winnie the Witch, who decides when the class should switch over to English and back to German. The unit is one tied to the World Cup, which is being held in South Africa this year. The students are grouped by animals (Giraffes etc..) and then carry out an interdisciplinary unit looking at Africa. One interesting note is that they are grouped across grades, with the students engaging in age appropriate summary exercises. For instance, the first graders might sign some african songs and the fourth graders might write short essays. They also play each other at soccer.

In our discussion after the class, the principal noted that the decision where to place the children, whether in the Hauptschule, the Realschule, or the Gymnasium, was made by the student's teachers and the principal. She also noted that it was legally binding (Gesetzlich) and that there was almost no recourse apart from having a specialized examination with the Baden-Wurttemberg school authorities, who sided with the school recommendation 99% of the time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Dual System and its Perils

Monday, June 7, 2010

Today’s agenda consisted of a welcome from the International office at the Universität Tübingen from Wolfgang Mekle, the Vice Provost for International Affairs. His comments concentrated on the fact that on a recent trip to the United States, he was approached more than usual with requests to send American students to Germany in excess to those agreed upon. This was hopeful given the declining enrollments at German departments throughout the United States and the decision by a number of American Universities to get rid of German altogether.

After an interlude that included a crash-course in survival German and a short lunch, we met for an introduction to the Baden Württember School System by Jörn Steinmayer of the State Institute for School Development and Education. Most of the discussion revolved around German tracking and the stigma attached to Hochschule (the remedial track) as the “Turkish track”. More on that later.

As mentioned above, the German system is in fact 16 different education systems controlled by the German states. Baden Wüttemberg has an income and population profile very much like Ohio or North Carolina as far as income and population. Essentially, localities might build school buildings, but BW funds the school system and that imposes the same teacher salaries, same standards, and same curriculum. After four years of primary school, students are sent to one of four schools: Sonderschule for special needs; Haupschule that leads to vocational preparation school, Realschule that can lead to either a vocational gymnasium or professional apprenticeship, or the Gymnasium, graduation from which allows student to attend a German university. Questions about tracking and mobility between the tracks once placement is made revealed that there was some mobility both ways in and out of the Gymnasium track during a Orientation step (Stufe). Also striking was the relative lack of private schooling in Germany. Much of this may be ascribed to the fact that religion is established in Germany, and religious instruction occurs in the public schools….except for Islam. This, combined with the stigma attached to the Hauptschule as the Turkish track, in the opinion of Herr Mekle, marginalizes many of the students, at least as a social perception, who are in this track. However, it was pointed out that even in the language of the official BW publication, the functions and aims of the Hauptschule include the description of the Hauptschule as a “place of integration…[for] pupils from different ethnic and social backgrounds.” It does not, however, use such language in describing the Realschule or the Gymnasium.

Germany's Many Tribulations

On Sunday night, June 6, we were welcomed to Germany and Tuebingen by Reiner Rohr, the Director of the German American Fulbright Commission. In his opening remarks, he noted several large questions that face Germany over the next several weeks.

1. The first was that for the first time in the history of the German Federal Republic, the Federal President has stepped down short of his term. This post is mostly honorific, but the Bundespraesident has been traditionally a consensus figure who united the country (think Theodor Heuss).

2. Despite a clear majority in the Bundestag, the popularly elected representative body from which coalition governments emerge, Angela Merkl's coalition was dealt a blow when the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democrats lost a state election in North Rhine Westfalia, the nation's largest state. This endangered the CDU-LPD majority in the Bundesrat, which represents state interests and has the check on all legislation having to do with state level affairs.

3. The above is significant because the Federal Law has a legislative deadline of 2014 to cut its budget deficit, which can only be accomplished with either more taxes or cuts in the social safety net. Indeed, on Monday, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitungen's lead story, Angela Merkl's coalition has announced cuts in Elterngelder (parental allowances) and unemployment insurance. The problem will come when Merkl tries to cut taxes, as promised in the last election.

4. The German education system by and large will not be affected by the budget cuts, but larger European concerns, especially 1998's Bologna reforms that called for the PISA (Program for International student Achievement), an attempt to harmonize education systems across Europe for the sake of facilitating labor mobility. This will impact the German system hard because of the diverse nature of education. Mainly, education has up until now been a state affair, which means that there are 16 different school systems in Germany depending on the state.

The Federal Republic has also reformed the school system to be K-12 instead of K-13 with longer school days making up for the lost time. This, in addition to the changes in the Military Service obligations and the institution of a 3 year bachelor's degree and a 2 year specialized master's means that young Germans who go through the university will hit the job market at age 25 instead of age 28 as had been the average. As we shall see, this is only part of the system, and only part of the dilemma's facing young Germans and their teachers.

Goethe Slept Here

One of the more interesting things about Tuebingen, is the variety of scientists who came from here and the intellectual notables who have been here. Note some of the signs indicating this.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fulbright Seminar Gathers Steam

June 5-6: The flight went as well as possible given a short delay caused by rain in Chicago. We arrived in Frankfurt at noon on Sunday and were picked up by the Fulbright for transport to Tuebingen. I had never been to Tuebingen before, but it is a medieval city that escaped World War II in tact. As a result, it still has all of the ancient hallmarks of an ancient city: a marktplatz, Schloss (castle), and a maze of streets. The Neckar river runs through the center of the town. But it is dominated by the university which takes up much of the building stock.