Last week, the President stood up at the State of the Union Address, and spoke on one particular idea that America should focus on.....bringing high school kids into a position where they would have a stronger career-orientated focus, with a technical degree equal to a US community college.
For a week, I've been looking over the comment, and pondering the way that the German system works. Basically....you'd have to flip the American education sector upside down, and radically change everything we do....to make it work like the German system.
Germany has a path set. As a kid....you get four years of good basic education like all the other kids. Then the teachers sit there and split up the "herd" into a couple of categories.
If you are rather gifted, very agreeable to homework, and show some basic art and music talents....you can move onto a trail that usually results in university results.
If you are somewhat gifted, with decent grades, but have some limits.....then you will move onto a highly technical field....and later a chance, if you show it.....for university or the apprentice program.
Finally, you average kids, who didn't put much effort into homework or study that well....you've got the apprentice program.
By the eighth grade.....most kids have hit their peak, and the emphasis on finding the right apprentice program is what really bears on the nerves of these kids.
You pump out letters and look around locally, and maybe your mom talks up business with someone who might give you a chance for a three-year apprentice deal.
The German apprentice program is simple. You agree to a contract with the company, and then spend roughly twenty hours a week at the office. The boss assigns an initial trainer....usually a tough guy to grill you and make life lightly miserable....because work isn't play like you'd desire. You can't screw up at work....like you did at school last year. The trainer will handle you for three months, and then you kind of rotate around the company to learn different functions within your trade area.
The other twenty hours a week....because there's a school deal attached to this....requires you to study your profession....take some business related classes....some computer classes....some math classes....and then take a few tests. The school is in the local town, and all the other kids in your profession....show up at this school.
This whole thing works well....because kids all live in villages near the big town....where public transportation picks them up (remember they are 15 and 16 at this point in time, without cars). They go to school some days, and to work the other days.
A US rural area? It won't work.
So the kid spends three years doing this. Some kids....maybe one out of twenty....will come to state that this just isn't for them and ask for a second chance to do something else. They will come to realize that they just can't cook, or fix a car, or do butcher work.
At the end of three years....the kid takes two tests. One is simply a written test, and it's fairly tough. The instructors from the school will give you all kinds of study material, and help in every way possible to pass. But then comes this verbal test with the Chamber of Commerce in every big town, where they ask some questions just to make sure you know what you studied.
The passing average? It goes up and down. I'd take a humble guess that eighty out of a hundred kids will pass on the first test. Another ten will pass on the second attempt. And these remaining kids fall into different categories.....some will spend an entire extra year trying to get smart. Some will never pass the exam and thus never be qualified in their area. They might get jobs later in life.....but it'll always be a question mark if you know much about your field.
For Americans, this all sounds good but it would only work in an urban environment. Companies will to sign up kids? Only if you offered tax credits, would some go for this. Abusive use of the kids and no knowledge gained at jobs would likely come out of the initial efforts. The smarter kids would benefit from programs like this....but it's to see any American success in using this in the same manner as Germans.
So the bottom line? Like a hundred things that Americans always want to talk about as great German things that ought to work in the US.....the same one hundred are never successfully introduced because of limitations. In other words...talk is talk, and never translates into much of anything else.
Oh, and if you were thinking of introducing German autobahns and unlimited speed limits....forget it....we just wouldn't be able to accept that unlimited speed business.