Beyond fast‐track secondary schools. The piecemeal hollowing out of the G8 reform in Hessen

reformkompass“October 27, 2008 was the end of a political era. It was not much of a party that took place during the election night at the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Wiesbaden, the capital of the regional state of Hessen. The place to go to attend victory celebrations was somewhere else.

The CDU mourned the loss an absolute majority. It was voted out of government – a defeat that depressed the mood of the party leadership and file-and-rank members of the CDU alike. Suffering a loss of 12 percent of the votes, the CDU only gained 36.8 percent of the votes. The Social Democrats (SPD) improved their share by eight percent and came very close the result gained by the CDU. It was possible to form a government without the CDU. It was easy to see, how much Roland Koch (CDU), prime minister of Hessen since 1999, suffered from the defeat.

Of course, there were manifold debates on the causes of the disastrous result, many causes were put forward and analyzed. Yet one reason for the loss in voter confidence was consistently acknowledged: the educational policy of the CDU of Hessen. In the German political context, educational policy is a core of the political powers of the regional states and has played a pivotal role in a series of regional elections. In the electoral race for 2008 elections in Hessen, the so-called “G8”-project was at the center of political contestation and political mobilization. The acronym G8 refers to the plan to reduce the time for attending secondary school (“Gymnasium”) from eight years from what used to be nine years. The CDU of Hessen tried to push this project against all odds, prime minister Roland Koch (CDU) and minister of education Karin Wolff (CDU) being the leaders in this effort. Indeed, there had been substantial protest and critique against G8, but political leadership believed to be on the right side of history.

The G8-project had been decided politically in Hessen in 2004, its implementation began in 2005. It was planned to implement the project in a two-step procedure. As the school year 2006/07 began, it was accomplished that all schools in Hessen were running the new system. Yet it did not take long for a wave of protest of dissatisfied parents to emerge. And what was particularly hurting for the CDU: Traditional conservative voters, those actually giving reliable support for the CDU, were engaged in this protest movement.4 Karin Wolff, the minister of education, showed herself unimpressed and resisted to give in to the increasing pressure. Being asked, whether G8 had been an error, she said: “No. Considering how European pupils attend schools and considering the trend towards life-long learning, this is the correct decision. […] In Hessen, we have introduced the shortened secondary education in a very careful way with consecutive steps. Indeed, we monitored closely the problems and difficulties other regional states had when they changed the system from one school year to another. Against this background, we introduced G8 after carefully preparing everything and with the consent of the council of parents of the state (“Landeselternbeirat”), being the 13th of 16 states performing the introduction of G8″.


Stephan ZitzlerStephan Zitzler ist Master-Absolvent des Masterprogramms „Politkmanagement, Public Policy & öffentliche Verwaltung“ der NRW School of Governance. Seine Arbeitsschwerpunkte liegen im Bereich der Politikfeldforschung und der Energiepolitik.


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Zitzler, Stephan (2015): Beyond fast‐track secondary schools. The piecemeal hollowing out of the G8 reform in Hessen. Published in: Available online:
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Beyond fast‐track secondary schools. The piecemeal hollowing out of the G8 reform in Hessen by Stephan Zitzler. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International
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