What should one expect from American high schools that have no direct equivalents in the German educational system?
By German standards, all six American high schools I’ve visited so far are quite large, with anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 students. In the US, students attend a high school from the 9th through 12th grades, which theoretically is more akin to the German idea of a “Gesamtschule” (comprehensive school) than a “Gymnasium” (secondary school). We observed great differences between the individual schools. Some schools are socially and ethnically very mixed. Other schools are made up of predominantly lower income students. We were surprised to see how this was reflected in the ethnic makeup of the students. Some schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs for motivated students, so that they may better prepare themselves for college. Graduates of “poorer” schools, on the other hand, often need to attend a community college in order to qualify themselves for university admittance.
Tallahassee school libraries receive basic funding for the purchase of media and materials from the state of Florida. Yet thanks to the economic crisis, funding in recent years has in many cases evaporated entirely. In order to supplement their budgets, most school libraries organize book fairs once or twice a year. Large publishing houses – for example, Scholastics – are invited to display and sell their wares in the schools; in return, the organizing school library receives up to 30% of the sales in either books or cash. Many parents also buy books to donate directly to the library. Since Florida schools are organized by district, it comes as no surprise that the book fairs are of varying success depending on the district. While some schools can earn upwards of $10,000 annually via book fairs, others do not organize book fairs for lack of parents with the financial means with which to buy books.
It is our impression that literacy is no longer a focal point of high school library programming. Perhaps it is considered no longer necessary after students have already gone through nine years of literacy programming during elementary schooling? Almost everyone we spoke to in the schools agreed that continuous, mandated “testing” leaves teachers regrettably little flexibility to plan supplemental activities outside an increasingly packed lesson plan. Reminds me a bit of Germany after all!
Wednesday, 3. November 2010
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