Germany’s governance of education is highly decentralized. The federal Ministry of Education and Research oversees vocational education, education research, and some aspects of higher education. This includes monitoring allocation of slots in the higher education programs in the professions (including teaching) based on a national analysis of supply and demand across the economy. The federal government sets regulations for the civil service workforce, which includes the majority of the teacher workforce, although salary levels are set at the state level. The 16 states (Länder) have primary responsibility for all other aspects of the early childhood, primary, secondary, and higher education systems. There are local authorities in each state, although their role is generally focused on oversight of school buildings, transportation, and other non-teaching areas of school management. Decision-making for the organization of instruction, including grouping of students, choice of textbooks, and student assessment, lies mainly with the schools.
While the federal Ministry of Education and Research has limited authority in education in the Länder, two federal institutions play a key role in education:
Most education funding is allocated at the state level, including higher education. The federal government is not permitted, by law, to provide ongoing funding for regular schooling. Federal funding is focused on special initiatives and, more recently, addressing equity. Vocational education is the exception, with funding for the apprenticeship system coming from the private sector. State education ministries support the vocational schools. Funding formulas vary across the Länder. All but three of the Länder provide additional funding for immigrant students.
Higher education is free to all Germans and to EU citizens.
Accountability and Incentive Systems
All of the Länder have school inspectorates, which are responsible for monitoring whether schools meet requirements. Most Länder set their own “framework for school quality” that is used to guide the inspection process. Critics contend that these frameworks emphasize administrative practices rather than instruction and learning. In addition, there are “cross-Länder” criteria set at the KMK level. Most Länder inspect schools every three to six years. Inspection results of individual schools are not released publicly. Instead, these data are used to identify schools that need support, with special attention paid to disadvantaged students.
There is also monitoring of schools at the federal level. This strategy was put in place by the KMK in response to the disappointing PISA results in 2001. The KMK committed to a centralized review of achievement and individual school performance within and across Länder and to report on findings across the Länder. To do this, the KMK agreed to set common education standards across the Länder and to put in place new national assessments to be able to compare achievement across Länder and to report on national achievement. New education standards for primary and lower secondary school were developed in 2004 and new national tests to measure achievement of these standards were implemented in 2006. The Institute for Educational Progress (IQB) was established in 2004 to help Länder implement the new standards and assess achievement. New nationwide assessments include VERA tests, which are given to all German students at grades 3 and 8 in either German or mathematics, and national assessments, which are given to samples of students every three years in secondary school and every five years in primary school. A national report is issued every year based on the findings of these assessments. Scores on tests are not published by school. Teachers use the results to drive instruction.
Support for Low-Performing Schools
Schools that are identified as “struggling” by inspections are offered assistance in developing improvement plans by inspectorate staff as well as other state ministry experts. In addition to the inspection process, most of the Länder require schools to create their own school development plans aligned with state level quality frameworks, with school-developed goals and a self-evaluation process. Sanctions, such as closing schools or replacing staff, are very rare.