City schools

New Schools in Berlin Are Giving Poor Families Educational Choices

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I gotta an idea for paying the bills.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Berlin attracts many people from abroad. As a result small private schools are starting up, even in deprived areas where parents and educators want to provide alternatives for low-income families. This means more choice for everybody.

  • Facts


    • Berlin’s public schools in the poorest areas are failing the pupils they teach but until recently, children from low-income families lacked other options.
    • Now, parents and educators are opening new schools in the city, which means public schools have to compete for poorer children as well as for kids from wealthier families.
    • The Social Democrats running education in the city are refusing to fund some of the new schools.
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Berlin’s public schools have always been able to count on getting plenty of children from low-income families. They filled up even the worst schools without complaint because they didn’t have a choice.

Meanwhile, attractive new schools with an international flair have been opening each year for higher income families, high-mobility parents and other well-heeled folk.

Now, people are starting new schools that don’t cost anything or only charge a very small fee and are open to families without an income. They’re located in socially disadvantaged areas and initiated by parents and educators who are sick of standing by and watching state schools churn out unsuccessful kids, year in, year out. Those children could be their children, after all.

The new schools they open are private but they do not have any money. They depend on sponsors and donors, and the parents and teachers running the schools improvise, take risks and do everything they can. They’re keen on making sure their children don’t wind up hostages of the public school system, which, while it might have more money than they do, isn’t doing a good job of spending it.

Each one of these new schools is further proof that public schools are suddenly facing competition from two sides. They’re not only trying to attract kids from wealthier families, but are now also competing for youngsters from low-income families. Competition has reached a new level.

The SPD is not only afraid of the schools for high earners; it’s also scared of the parent initiative low-income schools.

How are the Social Democrats running education in Berlin going to deal with this? The city’s senate department of education is refusing funding to the new private schools in poor areas struggling to survive, while they’ve just approved monies for state schools with students from similar backgrounds.

That makes sense, according to Lars Oberg, the most influential education politician from the SPD, who believes the new schools are leading to “social segregation” and he doesn’t want to support that.

What does that say? The SPD is not only afraid of the schools for high earners; it’s also scared of the parent initiative low-income schools.

People who are afraid feel weak, and there are plenty of reasons for the Social Democrats to feel weak. They’ve been running education in the city for twenty years and are still far from achieving the goals they set for themselves. Public schools need €1 billion ($1.3 billion) for repairs and they’re churning out more unsuccessful kids than schools in other German states. It’s not a great report card.

The Social Democrats should recognize that their opposition to private schools has taken on a grotesque form, when they even refuse money for schools in deprived areas just to cut out the competition.

Instead of dropping out, Education Senator Sandra Scheeres could develop a new plan and say, “Let’s cooperate. Tell us what you need and we’ll work together to create good schools.” That would help everybody involved.

This story first appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. It was translated by Allison Williams. To contact the author: 

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