Sixteen Educational Systems in One Country – or More? How Institutional and Regional Variability Shape the Opportunity Structure of Students Transitioning from Primary to Secondary Education in Germany

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:10
Oral Presentation
Camilla BORGNA, Collegio Carlo Alberto (University of Turin), Italy
Cross-national comparisons are crucial to shed light on how institutions interact with individual characteristics in the process of social stratification. Yet, it is often challenging to isolate single institutional elements, because countries differ in several other factors. Thus, institutional variety within a single-country (across both space and time) is particularly attractive for comparativists.

The federal structure of German educational policy-making provides this opportunity. In particular, in the last years, the sixteen German states have implemented various reforms of secondary schooling that have resulted in a substantial (and heterogeneous) transformation of the traditional tracking system. The latter, generally held responsible for the high level of inequality of educational opportunity in Germany, was characterized by an early and rigid sorting of pupils into three tracks, only one of which (the Gymnasium) prepared for university entry.

Among the institutional reforms implemented in some states are the postponement of tracking age and the decreased rigidity of the system by allowing more freedom of choice and/or “permeability” between tracks. Most importantly, some states have reformed the schools preparing for vocational training, whereas the supply of comprehensive schools, a once-residual school type preparing for both vocational training and university, has substantially increased in several states, in some cases becoming the only alternative to the Gymnasium.

Hence, while overall German secondary education remains tracked, the degree of tracking varies between states and over time. Moreover, educational choices are affected by the de facto availability of school types, which varies substantially not only between, but also within states.

By combining time-series statistics at the state (Bundesland) and regional (Kreis) level with individual-level data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), this contribution investigates how institutional and regional variability shape the opportunity structure of students from different social backgrounds in the transition from primary to secondary education in Germany.