Differences in Educational Attainment and Religious Socialization of Ex-Pupils from Grammar Schools with Public, Catholic, Protestant, and Private Backgrounds in the German State of Nordrhein-Westfalen during the 1970s and 1980s

By Dronkers, Jaap; Hemsing, Werner | International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Differences in Educational Attainment and Religious Socialization of Ex-Pupils from Grammar Schools with Public, Catholic, Protestant, and Private Backgrounds in the German State of Nordrhein-Westfalen during the 1970s and 1980s


Dronkers, Jaap, Hemsing, Werner, International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice


Abstract: Public, religious and private schools have been co-existing in continental Europe since the 19th century. Scientific interest in differences between the educational outcomes of public and religious schools has grown recently, as a result of international debates on parental choice and school autonomy especially in the USA. Clear differences have been found between the educational outcomes of public and religious schools in the Netherlands. In this paper we analyze whether comparable differences exist in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, which borders on the Netherlands and has much in common with Dutch history and culture. Pupils from Protestant and Catholic secondary schools in Nordrhein-Westfalen attain higher educational outcomes than those from public schools, after controlling for other characteristics. However, pupils from Protestant and Catholic schools in Nordrhein-Westfalen attain success at university and occupational levels equal to those of pupils from public schools, after controlling for unequal educational outcomes and other characteristics. These comparable differences between the effects of religious and public schools in Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Netherlands show that the Dutch educational system is not an exception, but an example of a broader European development, in which the old religious differences in education are being transformed into competition for pupils on the basis of educational quality.

1. Public and Religious Schools in Continental Europe and Differences in Educational Outcomes

Parental choice in education, or the free choice by parents of the school of their children, is one of the major topics in educational policy, not only in Europe but also in the USA and Australia. Increased parental choice in educational systems is often advocated as a means of introducing competition for pupils between schools, thereby improving the quality of teaching, decreasing the level of bureaucracy in and around schools and reducing its costs. The major problem that arises when parental choice is increased is that of finding a balance between freedom of school choice by parents and the aims of a national educational policy (promotion of equal opportunities, fair payment of education costs, equal provision of socially relevant education). The Dutch case is often seen an interesting example of such a balance: since the 1920s, parental choice has been combined with equal subsidizing and treatment of public and religious schools by the state. Despite the strong decline of religion within Dutch society, religious schools have maintained their large share of pupils. In other societies with low rates of religious activity (for instance France: Langouet & Leger, 1994) the number of religious schools is also increasing. Eight mechanisms can explain the existence of religious schools in irreligious Dutch society: 1. Financial differences; 2. Student intake; 3. Political protection; 4. Educational administration; 5. Religious values; 6. Educational conservatism; 7. The community and values of the church; 8. Deliberate educational choice (Dronkers, 1995, 1996). The most important mechanisms for producing higher educational outcomes in Dutch Catholic and Protestant schools compared with public schools during the 1990's have been superior educational administration, stronger community, and more deliberate educational choices (Dijkstra, Dronkers, & Hofman, 1997).

The co-existence of public and private schools within one national educational system is not a unique feature of the Netherlands. It occurs in other European nations, as the unintended result of three processes: the struggle between the state and the established churches in Continental Europe; the conflict between 18th century anciens regimes (mostly with one state-church and suppressed religious minorities) and 19th century liberal governments (which claimed to be neutral to all churches); and the emergence of new social classes in the 19th century (skilled workers, craftsmen, laborers) which rejected the dominant classes, whether liberal or conservative. …

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Differences in Educational Attainment and Religious Socialization of Ex-Pupils from Grammar Schools with Public, Catholic, Protestant, and Private Backgrounds in the German State of Nordrhein-Westfalen during the 1970s and 1980s
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