Policy Borrowing and Exchange

The basic concept of a state-oriented and administered mass educational system is still not granted in the English-speaking world, where either the role of the state as such or the role of state control specifically in education faces still (respectively again) considerable skepticism. The actual process of "policy borrowing" between different educational systems has been rather complex and differentiated. Horace Mann himself had stressed already in 1844 that the USA should copy the positive aspects of the Prussian system, while not adopting Prussia's obedience to the authorities. One of the important differences is that in the German tradition there is stronger reference to the state as an important principle, as introduced for example by Hegel's philosophy of the state, which is in opposition to the Anglo-American contract-based idea of the state.

Drill and serfdom
Current American critics of the Prussian system use purported Prussian drill and Prussian serfdom (actually predating 1807) as counterclaims against compulsory education. However, slavery and the 17th-century Prussian drill, the latter introduced to America by Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben during the Revolutionary War, were actually of much longer and continued influence on the USA and its military than in Prussia itself.

Early Prussian reformers took major steps to abandon both serfdom and the line formation as early as 1807 and introduced mission-type tactics in the Prussian military in the same year. The latter enlarged freedom in execution of overall military strategies and had a major influence in the German and Prussian industrial culture, which profited from the Prussian reformers' introduction of greater economic freedom. The mission-type concept, which was kept by later German armed forces, required a high level of understanding, literacy (and intense training and education) at all levels and actively invited involvement and independent decision making by the lower ranks. Its intense interaction with the Prussian education system has led to the proverbial statement, "The battles of Königgrätz (1866) and Sedan (1870) have been decided by the Prussian primary teacher".

Legacy of the Prussian system after the end of the monarchy
In 1918 the Kingdom of Prussia became a republic. Socialist Konrad Haenisch, the first education minister (Kultusminister), denounced what he called the "demons of morbid subservience, mistrust, and lies" in secondary schools. However Haenisch's and other radical left approaches were rather short-lived. They failed to introduce an Einheitsschule, a one-size-fits-all unified secular comprehensive school, throughout Germany.

The de:Weimarer Schulkompromiss (Weimar educational compromise) of 1919 confirmed the tripartite Prussian system, ongoing church influence on education, and religion as a regular topic, and allowed for peculiarities and individual influence of the German states, widely frustrating the ambitions of radical leftist educational reformers. Notwithstanding, Prussian educational expert de:Erich Hylla (1887-1976) provided various studies (with titles such as "School of Democracy") of the US education system for the Prussian government in the 1920s. The Nazi government's 1933 Gleichschaltung did away with state's rights, church influence and democracy and tried to impose a unified totalitarian education system and a Nazi version of the Einheitsschule with strong premilitary and antisemitic aspects.

Legacy of the Prussian System after 1945
After 1945, the Weimar educational compromise again set the tone for the reconstruction of the state-specific educational system as laid out in the Prussian model. In 1946 the US occupation forces failed completely in their attempt to install comprehensive and secular schooling in the US Occupation Zone. This approach had been endorsed by High Commissioner John J. McCloy and was led by the high-ranking progressive education reformer Richard Thomas Alexander, but faced determined German resistance. The fiercest defender of the originally Prussian tripartite concept and humanist educational tradition was arch conservative Alois Hundhammer, a former Bavarian monarchist, devout Catholic enemy of the Nazis and (with regard to the individual statehood of Bavaria) firebrand anti-Prussian coauthor of the 1946 Constitution of Bavaria. Hundhammer, as soon as he was appointed Bavarian minister of Culture and Education, was quick to use the newly granted freedoms, attacking Alexander in radio speeches and raising rumors about Alexander's secularism, which led to parents' and teachers' associations expressing fears about a reduction in the quality of education.Hundhammer involved Michael von Faulhaber, Archbishop of Munich, to contact New York Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, who intervened with the US forces; the reform attempts were abolished as soon as 1948.

Current debates referring to the Prussian legacy
The Prussian legacy of a mainly tripartite system of education with less comprehensive schooling and selection of children as early as the fourth grade has led to controversies that persist to the present. It has been deemed to reflect 19th-century thinking along class lines. One of the basic tenets of the specific Prussian system is expressed in the fact that education in Germany is till the present (against the aim of the 19th-century national movement) not directed by the federal government. The individual states maintain Kulturhoheit (cultural predominance) on educational matters.

The Humboldt approach, a central pillar of the Prussian system and of German education to the present day, is still influential and being used in various discussions. The present German universities charge no or moderate tuition fees. They therefore lack the more lavish funds available for example to Ivy League universities in the US, which make possible a quality of education and research that enable academics and students to fully realize Humboldt's ideal. The perceived lack of universities on the cutting edge in both research and education has been recently countered via the German Universities Excellence Initiative, which is mainly driven and funded at the federal level.

Germany still focuses on a broad Allgemeinbildung (both 'generic knowledge' and 'knowledge for the common people') and provides an internationally recognized in-depth dual-track vocational education system, but leaves educational responsibility to individual states. The country faces ongoing controversies about the Prussian legacy of a stratified tripartite educational system versus Comprehensive schooling and with regard to the interpretation of the PISA studies. Some German PISA critics opposed its utilitarian "value-for-money" competence approach, as being in conflict with teaching freedom, while German proponents of the PISA assessment referred to the practical usability of Humboldt's approach and the Prussian educational system derived from it.