YEAR 2020

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Do secondary schools lead everyone further? The impact of school types on educational success


Debates about the multi-tiered school system in Germany have a long tradition: Does the division into different types of school lead to better support according to ability or do social inequalities become more pronounced as a result? In his lecture at LIfBi on January 9, 2020, Prof. Dr. Malte Reichelt—from New York University Abu Dhabi and the Institute for Employment Research of the Federal Employment Agency (IAB) in Nuremberg—explored the methodologically exciting question of whether the type of school determines educational success after the fourth grade.

Prof. Dr. Corinna Kleinert, Head of LIfBi Department 2, welcomes guest speaker Prof. Dr. Malte Reichelt to the colloquium. 

At the end of Grade 4, students and their parents usually have to decide: Which secondary school should they go to—Hauptschule (school for basic secondary education), Realschule (intermediate secondary school), Gymnasium (type of school leading to upper secondary education and Abitur), or comprehensive school? Malte Reichelt, from NYUAD and the IAB, and Abraham Hdru, from the Institute for Analytical Sociology, used data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS, Starting Cohort 3-Grade 5) to investigate the implications of this decision for later educational success. For this purpose, they looked at fifth-grade students in different types of schools and grouped them according to similar characteristics such as gender, aspirations, expectations, and abilities using the Coarsened Exact Matching (CEM) procedure, which basically searches for "statistical twins". After that, they compared the changes in aspirations and competencies of the students over the course of secondary level.

Likelihood of attending upper Gymnasium level is higher in comprehensive schools

Does the division of students into different types of schools reinforce existing social inequalities or is it simply a division of children according to their abilities? In theory, the classification should lead to better overall learning outcomes and, where appropriate, compensate for the negative effects of the socioeconomic background. The study shows that students with the same prerequisites are more likely to enter upper secondary education (e.g., upper Gymnasium level or Fachoberschule (vocational school at upper secondary level leading to the entrance qualification for universities of applied science)) with different probabilities depending on whether they attended separate school types or comprehensive schools. There are no significant differences on average in educational success between the two school types. However, in comparison with comprehensive schools, students with similar prerequisites in Mittelschule (type of school offering basic and intermediate secondary education in Bavaria, formerly offered in Saxony and the GDR) and Realschulen display significantly lower transfer probabilities and reduce their demands and expectations over time, especially if they have better competencies compared to the members of their school class. In contrast, comparable students perform better in Gymnasium than in comprehensive schools. The individual ambitions of the students adapt to the average of the type of school they attend.

With this Reichelt draws a sobering conclusion: "The study finds that the paths mapped out for the separate school types of the multi-tiered school system contribute to determining the students' qualification later on.

Prof. Dr. Malte Reichelt is Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy at NYU Abu Dhabi, and Global Network Assistant Professor at NYU. He also works at the Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

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