Class Warfare

School of Hard Knocks

Separated by education. Source: DPA
Separated by education.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s tiered education system has long been criticized for shunting children into non-university track schools and vocational training too early.

  • Facts


    • Many conservatives in Germany argue that students should be separated in secondary schools based on academic ability.
    • Reformers want all students to be taught together in one high school.
    • A recent study shows German students in poorer districts lagging considerably behind their wealthier counterparts.
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It should be something to celebrate. Since Hamburg’s three different types of high schools were bundled into so-called district schools more than four years ago, the number of students who leave without a diploma has decreased by more than 30 percent. And the percentage of students earning an Abitur, the high school diploma required to attend university, has risen by almost a third.

But at the district schools no one is in the mood for celebrating. The reputation of this new type of school is abysmal. Better-educated parents are not registering their children at the schools anymore, leaving only disadvantaged students.

Are the district schools really that bad? Those who visit them and take part in lessons in model schools are surprised at how different school is today than it was before, and how well everything seems to work. Perhaps German parents just fear what they don’t know.

The district schools’ guiding principle is integration. In a port city like Hamburg, where every second teenager has a foreign background, and there is a growing division between rich and poor, district schools are supposed to work like a social glue for the future. The theory goes that weaker students would no longer be pushed into schools setting them up to remain society’s outsiders.

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