Persistent School Segregation or Change Toward Inclusive Education? the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and Reform Mechanisms in Germany

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:10 AM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Justin POWELL , Institute of Education & Society, University of Luxembourg, Walferdange, Luxembourg
Jonna BLANCK , Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Berlin, Germany
Benjamin EDELSTEIN , Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Berlin, Germany
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was ratified in Germany in 2009. Article 24 requires that nation-states implement an inclusive education system. This ambitious goal poses great challenges because the institutionalization of special education systems can facilitate—or hinder—inclusive education. Germany is one of the countries worldwide that, to achieve the UNCRPD’s goals, must transform its highly segregated education system. In fact, for decades Germany has maintained one of the most differentiated and segregated education systems in Europe. Inclusive education contradicts not only contemporary special education structures, but the entire highly-stratified general education system, addressing a core conflict in German education policy. The consequences of segregation, such as social assistance receipts over the life course, are dramatic even if they have not often been calculated.

Thus, this neo-institutionalist analysis examines both the barriers and the reform mechanisms that impact the implementation of the UNCRPD in a decentralized national context. German federalism guarantees the sixteen Bundesländer authority over educational matters; however, ratified human rights conventions demand fundamental reforms regardless of regional policymaking preferences and priorities. Based on historical process-tracing and expert interviews (with policymakers, administrators, scholars, and advocacy groups), we contrast “leader” Schleswig Holstein with “laggard” Bavaria. In the northern state, inclusive education has diffused broadly since the 1970s. In the southern state of Bavaria, implementation is just beginning; indeed, the law’s intents are being subverted by government actors, exhibiting considerable backlash.

Comparing these cases enables an investigation of specific mechanisms of institutional persistence and change: power-based, legitimacy-based, utilitarian, and functional. This analysis contributes to the theoretical literature on institutional change and path dependence, to studies on the human rights revolution in education (UNCRPD in particular), and to research on inclusive and special education, long marginalized in the sociology of education.