Student achievement and educational inequality in half- and all-day schools: Evidence from Germany
Isa Steinmann & Rolf Strietholt*
Abstract: Several countries have expanded extended education in recent years. In Germany, the most substantial educational reform is the ongoing transformation of the traditional half-day school system into an all-day school system. Among politicians, expectations are high that all-day schools will promote student achievement and reduce social achievement inequalities. To test these assumptions, we used representative data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) to estimate two-level latent growth models for achievement in grades 5, 7, and 9. The analyses revealed initial achievement differences but no differences in achievement growth or changes in inequality throughout secondary school. This suggests that selection mechanisms are at work but that half- and all-day schools are not differentially effective. We discuss these findings in light of the international debate on the quality of extended education.
Keywords: extended education, all-day school, mathematics achievement, reading achievement, educational inequality
Introduction and Research Question
Learning takes place in various contexts, which can be depicted on a continuum from informal to formal settings. Informal learning is not organized and takes place unintentionally and continuously in everyday life. By contrast, formal learning takes place in organized, highly structured contexts that are designated for learning (e.g., regular school lessons). Between these two poles lies non-formal learning (Werquin, 2010). Extended education—like private tutoring or extra-curricular activities at schools—is a group of non-formal contexts that is intended to promote learning and is pedagogically structured but less formalized than regular classes (see Stecher & Maschke, 2013). Especially school-based, non-formal extended education is increasingly politically relevant in many countries because it is (a) expected to improve student learning outcomes and (b) more open to external influence than, for instance, private tutoring (see Kuger, 2016; Plantenga & Remery, 2013; Vest, Mahoney, & Simpkins, 2013).
In Germany, the largest education policy reform of the past decades concerns schoolbased extended education. In the 20th century, the school day in most schools consisted of morning classes but no afternoon program.1 Between 2003 and 2009, a federal investment program of more than four billion euros (BMBF, 2003) prompted a large increase in the proportion of all-day schools from 16% in 2002 to 68% in 2016 (KMK, 2008, 2018). The program supported the founding of new all-day schools and the infrastructural development of existing ones. One aim behind the massive expansion of all-day schools was that the extended supervision of children would facilitate maternal employment (e.g., Fischer, Theis, & Züchner, 2014; Plantenga & Remery, 2013). However, politicians also expected the schools to increase opportunities to support learning and reduce educational gaps between social groups (e.g., BMBF, 2003; Fischer et al., 2014). The definition of all-day schools adopted by the investment program was: (a) All-day schools provide lunch and at least a seven-hour program on at least three days per week. (b) This program is supervised by (and conducted in close cooperation with) the school administration, which is also accountable for the program. (c) It is conceptually connected to the regular classes (KMK, 2008). Expectations were high that all-day schooling improves learning outcomes because all-day schools provide additional time and personnel resources that can be used to enhance schooling, for example, by providing more individual support and diverse learning activities (BMBF, 2003). Learning benefits were especially expected for socially disadvantaged students who have less stimulating environments in the afternoon at home and for children whose families do not speak German at home. Therefore, all-day schooling was expected to contribute to a reduction of social achievement gaps (e.g., BMBF, 2003; Steiner, 2009; Züchner & Fischer, 2014).
Based on the aforementioned all-day school definition, it is reasonable to expect that all-day schooling would extend formal learning opportunities. In fact, however, at all-day schools the regular morning classes are typically supplemented by non-formal components in the afternoon, not by additional formal instruction. Although the definition requires that the all-day program and regular classes are conceptually related, research indicates that this does not hold at about half of all-day schools (StEG, 2015). Generally, the definition gives schools considerable room for interpretation: It does not define qualitative characteristics such as the pedagogical content or the qualifications of the supervising staff. The schools decide whether participation in afternoon activities is nonmandatory, partially mandatory (e.g., for students in certain grades), or fully mandatory for all students. As a result, the organization of all-day schools varies within and between states, primary and secondary schools, and school types/academic tracks (KMK, 2015; StEG, 2015). In addition, all-day programs are often not supervised by teachers but by differently and often less qualified staff. Programs designed to promote student learning are much less common than those promoting leisure and sports activities (StEG, 2013, 2016). Moreover, the student enroll ment rates are often low, even at schools with a broad all-day program, which sets limitations to the potential benefit of all-day over half-day schools. However, students with working parents, low socioeconomic status, or an immigrant background are especially likely to make use of all-day schooling, even though many schools charge fees for lunch and/or attending programs (StEG, 2016; Steiner, 2011). The observation that all-day programs seem to be able to reach disadvantaged groups reinforces the idea that all all-day schools may decrease social inequalities in achievement (cf. also Steiner, 2009; Steinmann, 2018; Züchner & Fischer, 2014).
The heterogeneous characteristics and implications of all-day schooling are especially relevant in light of models on the effectiveness of extended education, which highlight the importance of how extended time resources are used. Such models suggest that both program characteristics and student participation mediate effects on student outcomes. Among other things, the assumed quality prerequisites for effective extended education include the types of activities and their level of structure (e.g., curriculum, alignment with learning) as well as personnel resources (e.g., small staff-to-child ratios, high staff qualifications) and students’ frequent and intensive participation (cf. Fischer & Klieme, 2013; Miller & Truong, 2009). The models suggest that extended education programs that are closer to the formal pole of the informal-formal learning continuum are more successful in promoting student learning. Therefore, one empirical question is whether non-formal learning provided in addition to regular schooling at all-day schools actually improves the learning outcomes of (groups of) students. In the present study, we investigated whether all-day schools are more successful in promoting student achievement and reducing educational inequality between social groups than traditional half-day schools.
Review of Literature
Despite the substantial recent investment in all-day schooling in Germany, few studies have evaluated its effects on achievement and inequality. Studies with robust research designs are particularly rare. One group of longitudinal studies compared students who participated in non-formal all-day programs with students who did not attend all-day programs. None of these studies found effects on student achievement after controlling for prior achievement and further background characteristics (Bellin & Tamke, 2010; Fischer, Sauerwein, Theis, & Wolgast, 2016; Linberg, Struck, & Bäumer, 2018; Lossen, Tillmann, Holtappels, Rollett, & Hannemann, 2016; Steinmann, Strietholt, & Caro, 2018). Bellin and Tamke (2010) further investigated if students with a migration background profit more from the all-day participation than native peers but found no support for this assumption. However, there are general issues with studies at the student level, resulting from possible spillover effects within schools that are related to remedial education measures (e.g., nonparticipating students may receive more attention during regular classes).
Studies that investigated all-day schooling as a school-level measure circumvent some issues related to selection mechanisms and spillover effects that operate at the individual level within schools. Only three studies used proxies or test measures of prior achievement as controls to compare performance at half- and all-day schools or at schools with and without afternoon programs offering homework supervision and remedial courses. Again, none of these studies revealed student achievement effects (Linberg et al., 2018; Steinmann & Strietholt, in print; Strietholt, Manitius, Berkemeyer, & Bos, 2015). Two of the three studies investigated effects on educational inequality and found null results (Steinmann & Strietholt, in print; Strietholt et al., 2015). They examined for example inequalities in achievement scores between students with a high and a low social status or between students with and without German as first language. However, the longest investigated time span was two years. Furthermore, all these studies failed to take into account the ongoing changes from half- to all-day schools because they only determined the schools’ organization form at one time point. This lack of precision likely led to biased effect estimates.
In order to contextualize the findings for Germany, we briefly summarize findings on the circumstances under which non-formal extended education programs are found to foster learning. In the US, extended education programs (e.g., afterschool programs, summer schools) have been studied extensively in experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Meta-analyses and literature reviews of this research suggest that some programs had no effects while others showed positive effects on student achievement. In contrast, positive effects were observed for programs with the following characteristics: They were designed to promote specific competences, they were closely linked to the regular curriculum, or they employed evidence-based educational approaches (Apsler, 2009; Cooper, Charlton, Valentine, Muhlenbruck, & Borman, 2000; Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010; Lauer et al., 2006). Programs targeting at-risk students showed particularly positive effects (Durlak et al., 2010; Patall, Cooper, & Allen, 2010). Effective programs also employed highly qualified staff (Feldman & Matjasko, 2005; Lauer et al., 2006). However, programs that did not meet these quality characteristics showed smaller and often no effects on student outcomes (Apsler, 2009; Durlak et al., 2010; Roth, Malone, & Brooks-Gunn, 2010). In summary, programs that were located at the formal rather than the informal end of the learning continuum—i.e., that were more comparable to regular schooling—showed the most promising results. Additionally, some studies indicated that disadvantaged groups like students with a low socioeconomic status profit more from extended education, which implies that all-dayschools reduce social achievement gaps (Lauer et al., 2006; Patall et al., 2010).
*Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Roisin Cronin for copy editing the manuscript.
1In the 1970s, some initiatives started to establish “Gesamtschulen” in Germany. “Gesamtschulen” were a new school type that intended to overcome the traditional ability grouping in different school types and combine ability tracks within schools. Furthermore, they were organized as all-day schools. However, the share of those schools was small and they were limited to few federal states.
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Would you like to continue reading? This article was published in Issue 2-2018 of IJREE – International Journal for Research on Extended Education.
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