Conflicts in modern society can also be recognized in smaller disputes. For example in school: because of the compulsory education there is no alternative to it. But how much coercion is tolerable? The question would be easier to answer if there was agreement about the purpose of the school. Education, of course. But also the determination of the suitability for higher or lower educational paths and also the learning of so-called secondary virtues such as hard work, neatness and respect. What all these goals have in common, however, is that they do not provide any direct clues as to the use of coercion: whether they are more likely to be achieved if the students are forced to perform is a question that cannot be definitively answered.

This is where the important course of transition from elementary school to secondary school comes in. In an international comparison, the German school system is known to be characterized by the fact that children in most federal states are allocated to different types of school at an early age. The fact that it does not seem sensible to want to recognize the suitability for a university degree in a ten-year-old has repeatedly been argued against this German peculiarity. The binding elementary school recommendation, which leaves parents no choice at all as to which type of school their children should switch to after elementary school, seems to be even more questionable. After all, it is known that these recommendations are often made without a standardized performance measurement. May subjective evaluations of teachers,who are also subject to systematic distortions, have so much power?

The recommendation of the teachers is currently only binding in Bavaria, Brandenburg and Thuringia. In the other countries, parents can ignore a lack of recommendation for a higher school. The proponents of the binding recommendation, however, object that the teachers rather than the parents have a realistic picture of the performance of the students.

But how static is this performance?

Again, it is the proponents of the binding recommendation who see the advantage of binding in the performance-enhancing compulsion that they exert: If it weren't for the grades in the fourth grade, no one would try particularly hard.

Or only those students whose parents want the recommendation for high school for reasons of prestige alone.

So does coercion ultimately ensure more educational equality because it challenges all students, and not just those with particularly ambitious parents?

School skills clearly deteriorated

A new study has now examined this question using data from the National Educational Panel Study and results of the comparative work in grade 3. For this purpose, the performance at the end of the fourth grade before and after the abolition of the binding recommendation in 2012 in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt was compared with the development in those states that had not made any rule changes. In a second procedure, the performance development of a year from the second to the fourth grade in countries with and without binding recommendations was compared.

The analysis of the data showed that without binding recommendations, student performance deteriorated significantly in all of the school competencies tested: in mathematics, the effect was ten to 14 percent of a standard deviation, in reading six to eight percent, in listening nine percent and in spelling even 20 Percent. The pressure to perform under the binding recommendation improved the children, but it also increased their fear of grades and the future, and decreased the joy of learning among fourth graders in the respective countries.

A classic conflict of goals: Do you want to achieve better competencies (in the short term) and thus (in the long term) further trips to school, or do you generally value the joy of learning without being forced? After all, the authors of the study claim that the additional efforts of the students with a binding recommendation were self-determined and would not have come about through pressure from parents. The study could not find any differences in the efforts of the parents, such as homework control or additional private lessons. Perhaps in the end the students actually knew best what they wanted to achieve and what they are ready to do for it?