Why So Few Private Schools in Germany?

One of those many things that, for quite some time, I had been wondering about in the sense that I had stored it in the folder "phenomena not understood by me", but not in the sense that I had taken steps to transfer it into the "phenomena understood by me" folder is that Germany has so few private schools, compared to the U.K. and the U.S. Now there seems to be an obvious hypothesis. That is, Germany has a tiered (tracked) school system, while the U.K. and the U.S. do not. Hence, in order to separate your kids from the riff-raff, you don't need to send them to a private school if you're in Germany (provided they manage to get into a first-tier school).

That obviously entails the hypothesis that untracked school systems bring about private schools. If you compare countries, you'll want to adjust for the right variables. Someone else do it!


Bill said...

US public schools are de jure untracked but de facto tracked.

First, there are gigantic variances in school demographics among local school districts. It is inexpressible in words how different schools in majority black and 90% white districts are, for example. And, even among high performing ethnic groups, there are school districts for plumbers & carpenters and school districts for corporate managers & doctors. These are not explicit, of course, but people live with people like themselves, etc.

Even within the school districts for white professionals, there is tracking (since there are *some* plumbers' and carpenters' children). My kids' schools have four tracks (which are never, ever called tracks of course). There is the "special needs" track (5%); there is the "normal" track (50%); there is the "advanced" track 1(25%); there is the "accelerated" track (20%). There is also a gifted program. In some schools, this is an additional track. In my kids' schools, it is moribund.

Private schools in the US come from two main sources. First, compulsory public schooling in the US was a Protestant plot to destroy Catholic culture in the North. Catholics responded with Catholic schools. In the South, desegregation in the 60s and 70s caused a massive number of so-called "white academies" to spring up.

I wonder. Are private schools more common in the few parts of Germany that have both lots of Protestants and lots of Catholics?

LemmusLemmus said...


I have not done quantitative analyses, but a quick look at <a href="https://www.google.de/maps/search/privatschulen+in+deutschland/@51.1642292,10.4541194,6z/data=!3m1!4b1>a Google-generated map</a> suggests private schools are not more common in religiously heterogenous (the middle of the former West Germany). Nor would I expect this, as Germany has nothing like the Protestant-Catholic culture wars that you describe for the U.S.

U.S.-style tracking solves the problem of keeping your kids away from the riff-raff only partially: They still share the same schoolyard.

This leaves the issue of districting. Importantly, from grade 5 or 7 (depending on which state you're in) onwards, school choice is not restricted by which district you're in - you can send your kids anywhere. Sure, you don't want the school to be to far away from home, but this gives you more flexibility.

This difference probably helps explain why German neighbourhoods are economically more heterogenous than U.S. neighbourhoods. But in the U.S., an alternative to moving into a more expensive neighbourhood is sending your kid to a private school. Hence, it makes more sense to send your kid to a private school in the U.S. than it does in Germany.