Learning from the World: Germany

International Learning

Tour Overview

The National Public Education Support Fund (NPESF) organized a U.S. delegation of 39 education leaders on a study tour of Germany from May 3 – May 8, 2015 as part of its continuing series of international visits to top-performing and presently improving educational systems. Our purpose was to explore how education reform drivers in Germany could inform US policy and state strategies to accelerate educational progress and attainment in the American context. The U.S. delegation included national and state policy makers, educators, and thought leaders, and members of the Education Funder Strategy Group (ESFG), a peer learning community of leading foundations focused on education policy. Our special thanks to the Robert Bosch Foundation in Germany for serving as hosts for the learning journey.

The delegation focused on Germany’s education system because much like in the United States, education policy and governance in Germany is not controlled by the central government, but by the federated states (called Länder), where educational achievement varies significantly. Germany, the largest country in the European Union, is also Europe’s strongest economy, and prides itself on a strong literary tradition and belief in social equality. Germany was shocked when the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams in 2000 were not only lower than the OECD average for reading, but revealed a higher correlation between family socio-economic status and student achievement than any other OECD country. This “PISA shock” led to widespread national debate on how best to reform Germany’s complex education system. Longer school days, a move toward a less segregated two-pillared system, and a push for standardized national curricula are among the various advances in policy adopted by the country since their initial low scores on PISA provoked change. Although the reforms are ongoing, Germany’s performance in mathematics, reading, and science on PISA now rank above the OECD average. Moreover, Germany is one of only three countries that have improved in both mathematics performance and equity on PISA since 2003.

Under the direction of the German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF), the delegation examined the policies and practices that continue to drive Germany’s improving federated education system.

The goals of the delegation were to:

  • Understand and analyze the key levers at the federal and state levels that are driving educational improvement within Germany’s federated system in order to inform state strategies in implementing new and higher state standards in the U.S.
  • Examine the role that standards, curriculum, and assessment have played in improving education attainment in Germany’s federated system to inform implementation strategies in the U.S.
  • Understand the role that increasing educational equity has played in Germany’s improving performance.

Before arriving in Germany, the delegation reviewed background materials that included comprehensive reviews of the state of education in Germany. These resources included the OECD Germany Country Note. Delegates also read the 2014 indicator-based report, “Education in Germany,” which documents the state of the education system across a wide variety of areas. Researcher, professor, and German authority on international education reform, Dr. Eckhard Klieme of DIPF, served as the trip’s intellectual guide and cultural interpreter. Dr. Juliane Grünkorn, Officer for Educational Quality and Evaluation, DIPF served as a co-designer and moderator for the trip.

This report reviews and summarizes a number of the perceptions that developed from the dialogues that occurred during the meetings and site visits in addition to outlining a number of the lessons learned from Germany. After taking time to reflect on the rich insights gained from the learning journey, the expectation is that delegates will cultivate further discussions about the lessons learned from Germany in order to help inform and deepen their work in the U.S.


Read the full 2015 report of the U.S. Education Delegation to Germany.

Download PDF. 

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