(Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Germans trapped in Tennessee are finding that not even economic wheeling and dealing can save them from America’s education system.

Volkswagen agreed to put a $1 billion Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in part, because local officials promised the German auto maker that children of  employees transferring from Germany would get at least one hour of schooling a day in their native language.  Now, the state Department of Education says no state or federal money can be spent on such instruction and that the program, therefore, can be offered only after school hours or weekends.

“It’s just, you run into a lot of issues … because you’re not providing those services to other students,”  Department of Education spokeswoman Amanda Maynard Anderson told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The program was designed to keep German students, who expect to return home in the next few years, from falling behind academically.  Coincidentally, American students may have benefited most from the program before the state demanded that it be tweaked.

At Brown Academy, where about 50 German students are enrolled, the Hamilton County school district was piloting a two-way immersion program in which students in prekindergarten through first grade hear a lesson in English, then a similar lesson in German.

German teacher Tammy Collins told the Times that the American students raise their hands to answer in German more often than their German counterparts. “It works just like the research says it does,” she said. “It’s incredible. I think it’s sort of a miraculous thing.”

Hamilton County is hoping to hold on to the language immersion program and to expand it to include other languages, but nobody is sure what will be allowed by state education officials, who have demanded changes by next month.

In Alabama, focus on education shortcomings has become part of a campaign to revise the state’s constitution, which proponents of change say impedes the government’s ability to raise money for schools.  A calendar being sold by the Greater Birmingham Ministries to promote the cause includes this slam:  “If you have to buy toilet paper for your kid’s school … you may be an Alabama resident.”

Tennessee and Alabama at least continue to offer a full academic year to their students.  South Carolina, which ranked 48th — just below Georgia — in SAT scores in 2009, is thinking about cutting a few days out of its school year.  State House Ways and Means Chairman Danny Cooper says cutting 10 days would save the state “up to $210 million.”

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.

  1. Frank Povah

    Interesting, Ron. When the new waves of immigrants came to Australia after the upheavals in the 80s and 90s, schools found that among their pupils they could count up to 160 (more in one famous case in Sydney) languages spoken by the parents. This of course caused conflicts and held the kids back – they didn’t want to speak their parents’ languages because they thought it might make them less Australian (and there was a lot of anti-refugee garbage flying round, remember) and so this caused conflict at home and at school. Then it was found that if kids were reasonably proficient in their parents’ language as well as in English, they did better at school. They could much better explain “foreign” concepts to their parents and grandparents so that some things became less threatening to them. In short it worked.

    Of course that costs money and if we still keep looking at the children of “the working class” and “the poor” as nothing but fodder for the 21st century equivalent of the mills, then it’s money wasted. Money that could be spent on…on…on…well I can’t quite think of what it might be better spent on off the top of my head, you really shouldn’t just ask me things like that without warning me, but you know what I’m…like…you know…I mean, like…what I’m sayin’ here. And how’s that Germany, employmenty, readiny, writiny, ‘rithmeticy thing goin’ for you there Ron?

  2. Darby Britto

    I am continually amazed at the short sited thinking that makes it harder and harder for our youth to compete in a global marketplace….not to mention an appreciation and understanding of other cultures.

    1. Well, in part that’s because “competition” has been rendered a more polite way of referencing predatory contests in which the dominant one destroys all the others. Since there’s little talent, only raw power and determination, needed to accomplish that, why bother with education? Then, of course, there’s a large segment of the population which doesn’t like its own children, never mind other people’s off-spring. They’d just as soon have them sacrificed to save their own hide. Educating them first would be a waste.

    2. Frank Povah

      Hiya Darby – not only our youth, but of course they should be at the head of our list. The USA is far behind a lot of the world in high-speed internet service and something more than 50 per cent of its citizens don’t have access to high-speed services. The telephone system is also a joke, though in very poor taste.

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