What is the advantage of traditional education


Inka Bormann

Prof. Dr. Inka Bormann, born in 1971, is Professor of General Education at the Free University of Berlin. Her research deals with "Education for Sustainable Development" and with new forms of control in the education system. It examines, among other things, the connection between new management and trust in education. She and René John recently published an essay on this topic: "Trust in the education system - thoughts on a fragile bridge into the future".

Why observing the education system not only has advantages, but also problems

After the "PISA shock", the federal and state governments decided to systematically monitor the education system using scientific methods in order to find out more about the causes of problems in the education system. But to what extent can "education monitoring" help to improve the quality of the education system? What are the risks and side effects?

Students during the "learning objective control" (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Educational monitoring and the goal of quality improvement

The first PISA study from 2000 is particularly well-known because it caused a "shock": The study showed that in a comparison of the OECD countries, 15-year-old schoolchildren in Germany in the fields of mathematics, science and reading only have below-average skills. It also became clear that educational opportunities in Germany depend particularly heavily on the social origin of the learners. Children and young people from low-income parental homes in particular can therefore only partially fulfill their hopes for a good, self-determined life. In view of these results, education policymakers in the following years were concerned with finding out more about the causes of these problems and finding suitable strategies to tackle the problems. To this end, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) adopted the so-called overall strategy for education monitoring in 2006.

Overall strategy for educational monitoring

After the publication of a number of surprisingly negative results of national and international comparative school performance studies, the education ministers of all federal states decided to monitor and improve the performance of the education system on a permanent and systematic basis.

For this purpose, the overall strategy for educational monitoring was adopted. It consists of a bundle of four tools with which the education system is to be monitored from now on. That includes
  • participation in international school performance tests such as PISA,
  • the implementation of national, federal state comparative school performance studies that check whether the so-called educational standards have been achieved in selected subjects, i.e. to what extent the students of a class level have the skills, abilities and knowledge expected for the respective subject,
  • the nationwide implementation of comparative work in order to use these results to compare the performance of individual schools and classes and
  • the publication of a great deal of information on the state of the education system in a biennial National Education Report.



The educational monitoring is intended to collect a wide range of information about the education system. The information obtained is intended to help determine the results of educational processes in schools and other educational institutions (e.g. by measuring the competencies of students). However, they are also intended to support those responsible in politics in initiating targeted educational policy and pedagogical measures with which the quality of the education system can be secured and improved (e.g. through changes in the training of teachers or through anchoring support programs, e.g. for Language support).

Background to educational monitoring: from input to output control

The systematic measurement and comparison of educational results may seem almost a matter of course today, since it has long since become part of normality in educational policy. In 2006, however, the overall strategy for educational monitoring marked a clear change in the way in which the education system is "controlled". The overall strategy changed the methods and means that politicians fall back on in order to achieve important goals in the education system: For many decades, education policy was essentially understood as an administrative task. The most important adjustment screw for achieving political objectives was the so-called input - that is what state decision-makers "put" into the education system, for example in the form of curricula, personnel resources or educational expenditure.

The poor performance of German schoolchildren in international comparative studies such as PISA not only called into question the quality of the German education system, but also the effectiveness of this input control. After all, politics had apparently not succeeded in using traditional methods and means to achieve important goals such as quality and equal opportunities.

It was against this background that the overall strategy for educational monitoring was developed. It is an expression of a new approach to the political control of the education system and can be understood as a milestone on the way to so-called output control: Education policy is increasingly based on concepts and methods that are traditionally mainly used in the private sector, for example in large companies , are widespread, but are increasingly being used in the public sector, e.g. in hospitals or employment offices (today's employment agencies). In this context one speaks of New Public Management (NPM, in German: New Control or New Management) (see Oschmiansky). The traditional public administration of the education system is contrasted with the model of active and more flexible management of the education system, which one expects to be better able to initiate innovative developments and to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of educational policy measures. The output control introduced with educational monitoring is also part of the NPM's toolkit. Educational policy decisions, for example about reforms to be carried out or the distribution of resources, should be made on the basis of measured results (output) such as skills, qualifications / certificates and long-term educational returns. For this purpose, educational policy decision-makers must be able to fall back on scientific knowledge and data material about the education system - and it is precisely this that should be made available with the help of educational monitoring. Output control is therefore also referred to as knowledge- or evidence-based control.

In addition to many proponents of this knowledge- and evidence-based strategy of educational monitoring, there are also voices who are skeptical about the usefulness of these observations and evaluations. And both sides have good reasons for their view. First to the arguments of the proponents.

Arguments and positions of proponents of educational monitoring

Proponents of educational monitoring, such as actors from educational policy and administration, but also many educational researchers, argue that meaningful measures can only be taken and the quality of the education system as a whole improved on the basis of precise information about the results achieved by (school) educational processes . In order to raise the level of competence of the student body and to reduce educational inequalities, it is first of all necessary to obtain reliable information about the distribution of competencies in the student body and to investigate the causes of unevenly distributed skills. In fact, we are now very well informed about the learning outcomes achieved in our education system through educational monitoring. There is also a lot of knowledge about problem areas, for example about the number of those who only have elementary reading skills, about the extent of social selection or gender-specific educational inequalities. Without this information, education policies could fail. A lot of money could then be spent on something that later turns out to be ineffective. It is argued that it is only on the basis of precise and reliable data and facts that targeted support programs can be designed for specific groups of schoolchildren, instead of taking large-scale measures that are costly to implement and whose success is uncertain.

Accordingly, reference is made to the large amount of detailed and also longitudinally (i.e. repeatedly collected over time) available data that emerged from the educational monitoring. With their help, changes in the education system can be observed and conclusions can be drawn about the impact of reforms that have been introduced. It is considered to be a great merit of the systematic and continuous monitoring that today there is far more information about the results of the educational efforts of teachers and pupils as well as the framework conditions under which these take place (e.g. with regard to the curricula, the equipment of schools , the personnel key) than 15 years ago. In the meantime, education politicians can no longer "only" base their decisions on political convictions, but have to deal more and more with data and facts. The mere belief, hope or will that the envisaged educational policy measures are suitable for resolving identified problems in the education system and bringing about better results is not sufficient for complex and protracted reforms.

The tests for competency diagnostics, which have since been further developed, provide procedures with which the knowledge, skills and abilities of children can be reliably checked and even compared internationally. Such comparisons can also help to open up and discuss otherwise unseen opportunities for change. Last but not least, educational monitoring and public reporting on its results help the public at least potentially to get an idea of ​​the state of the education system, individual educational institutions and the effectiveness of political decisions.