“SCHOOL reform chaos?” asked a frowning satchel depicted on posters plastered around Hamburg. “No thank you.” The sorrowful satchel was the mascot of a citizens’ rebellion against a proposed school restructuring in the city-state. Voters rejected the plan in a referendum on July 18th. The stinging defeat for Hamburg’s government, a novel coalition between the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Green Party, has national consequences, as it may make the CDU-Green alliance a less appealing model for a future federal government. Ole von Beust, Hamburg’s mayor, announced his resignation before the result, saying he had done the job for long enough. He is the sixth CDU premier to leave office this year. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leads the CDU, must now promote a new generation of leaders.
More important are the implications for schools. Hamburg’s plan was a bold attempt to correct a German practice that many think is both unjust and an obstacle to learning. In most states, after just four years of primary school children are streamed into one of several types of secondary school: clever kids attend Gymnasien, middling ones Realschulen and the slowest learners Hauptschulen, which are supposed to prepare them for trades. (A few go to Gesamtschulen, which serve all sorts.) Early selection may be one reason why the educational achievement of German children is linked more closely to that of their parents than in almost any other rich country. Children at the bottom often face low-wage drudgery or the dole.