Friday, September 8, 2017

The Others

They’re coming to our discipline and taking away our jobs!

Well, not really. OK, maybe a little bit.

One of the exciting things about German Studies as a discipline is that we’re in conversation with historians, linguists, and scholars with many other disciplinary backgrounds. We talk to our neighbors down the hall in comparative literature and we maintain conversations with our colleagues in Germany.

One of the less exciting consequences is that the hiring pool for faculty in German Studies can be drawn very broadly. If there are 17 tenure-track jobs available this year, not all of the people hired will have Ph.D.s in German from North American doctoral programs. Some will hold doctorates from European universities, some will come from outside of German Studies, and some won’t hold a Ph.D. at all. Basically, think of the three alternate sources of German faculty as doctoral programs in Germany, comparative literature and other disciplines, and people with MA degrees. In the best case, this keeps our discipline vital. In the worst case, the dean can undercut any salary demand by simply offering a job to any native speaker he can find, qualified or not.

For the hiring cycles 2006/7-2015/16, a total of 91 searches selected candidates who did not hold doctorates from North American German programs (out of 814 total hires, or 11.2%). This was approximately equally split between tenure-track and non-tenure track positions (12.5% of all tenure-track hires and 10.2% of NTT hires).

In a few cases, no academic background can be determined. For tenure-track hires (42), just above half are from European doctoral programs, mostly from Germany, and just under half are from American doctoral programs, chiefly comparative literature. Only 2 of the TT hires were from the pool of MA holders, in both instances the rare case of TT hires by a community college. For NTT hires (41), around a third are MAs, a third are from other disciplines, and a third hold Ph.D.s from European programs. (The VAP numbers include 4 faculty members who were hired for multiple positions, while the TT numbers include a number of VAP-to-TT inside hires).

The largest single donor of faculty to German Studies is by far the program in comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania (4 TT hires). Princeton comp lit and the Humboldt Universität each had 2 TT hires.

The North American programs that hire outside of North American German Studies most prolifically include Harvard, NYU, the University of British Columbia, and Notre Dame, all with two TT hires from outside North American doctoral programs in German. The outstanding champion in the field, however, is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with 3 system-external tenure-track hires (and 2 non-tenure-track hires) during the previous decade.

Finally, has there been any change in hiring over time? In a word, yes. From 2006/7 to 2015/16, the percentage of hires from outside North American German Studies for jobs in North American German Studies has risen from around 5% to around 20% of all hires, even as the number of tenure-track jobs in the field has declined profoundly—by around 70%—during the same time. That suggests an amazing commitment to interdisciplinary exchange and intellectual vitality for a discipline that can’t currently provide stable jobs for 75% of its own doctorates. Or maybe it suggests a lack of confidence in its own product and a desperate search for relevance.
Figure 1: Hires in North American German Studies of those not earning terminal degrees in German Studies or from North American doctoral programs, 2006/7-2015/16

Friday, September 1, 2017

What's wrong with German Studies: High School edition

I'm not even going to mention the outsized role that the cult of TPRS plays in secondary language instruction. Instead, I present to you the following exhibits.

First, from the College Board's AP German course description: "The AP course provides students with opportunities to demonstrate their proficiency in each of the three modes in the Intermediate to Pre-Advanced range as described in the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners" (5).

As far as ACTFL is concerned, "Pre-Advanced" isn't really a thing, so we'll interpret this as saying students passing the AP German test should be at the Intermediate Mid to Advanced Low level of proficiency.

Second, this chart from ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners (13):
Time as a critical component for developing language performance
There's a lot that's seriously messed up here, and we haven't even gotten to what's really wrong with German Studies (high school edition) yet.
  1. According to to the chart, students with four years of high school German don't get to the bottom range of the proficiency level the AP exam is testing.
  2. According to the chart, students who start off learning a language in third grade are much better off than children who start in sixth grade, even though the scientific evidence for this is sketchy at best 
  3. The most common situation we deal with at the university level, where students start German in grade 9 and continue in college, doesn't show up on the chart at all.
  4. The chart claims that children will speak German at an Advanced High level if they start German in kindergarten and take German until they graduate. This is simply false, because no one reaches an advanced level just by taking classes, no matter when they started learning German.
Third, an observation about college-level German proficiency testing. In German Studies, we typically care more about the Goethe Institute and the CEFR scale than we care about ACTFL, because the Goethe Institute comes from Germany and provides the language exam that 99% of people care about and that language programs in the US administer. (Plus the Goethe Institute provides huge amounts of free practice material, while ACTFL provides nothing, which is one more reason to hate ACTFL.) And the exam that nearly all German majors and minors are capable of passing at the end of their programs is the B1-level Goethe Institute exam. Students who go abroad for a year, or who spent some formative years in a German school, or heritage speakers, or the occasional freakishly good language learner have a shot at passing the B2-level exam.

Fourth, there is no complete agreement about how to map the CEFR scale onto the ACTFL scale. According to this ACTFL document (4), B1 falls in the range from Intermediate Mid to Advanced Low. Erwin Tschirner - you know, the lead author of Kontakte - thinks B1 corresponds to Intermediate High. I tend to believe Tschirner.

Fifth, according to the ETS guide to the German Praxis Exam required for German high school language teachers, those who pass the test will demonstrate "Language Proficiency in the target language. (At the Advanced Low level, as described in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages [ACTFL] Proficiency Guidelines)."

So to sum up what's wrong with German Studies (high school edition):
  1. The AP German test for high school students and the ETS Praxis exam for future high school teachers both target the same level of proficiency
  2. The AP German test to grant credit for a few German classes to incoming college freshman targets a higher level of proficiency than most college students will achieve at the end of a college German major.
  3. This is Seriously Messed Up.