Education in the United States

Рublic schools and private schools in the United States. The history of evolution of free public schools. Educational statistics in the United States. Characteristic of educational stages. The problem of transporting students to and from school.

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theme: Education in the United States

Education in the United States is provided by public schools and private schools.

Public education is universally required at the K-12 level, and is available at state colleges and universities for all students. K-12 public school curricula, budgets, and policies are set through locally elected school boards, who have jurisdiction over individual school districts. State governments set overall educational standards, often mandate standardized tests for K-12 public school systems, and supervise, usually through a board of regents, state colleges and universities. Funding comes from the state, local, and federal government.[4]

Private schools are generally free to determine their own curriculum and staffing policies, with voluntary accreditation available through independent regional accreditation authorities. About 87% of school-age children attend public schools, about 10% attend private schools,[5]and roughly 3% are home-schooled.[6]

Education is compulsory over an age range starting between five and eight and ending somewhere between ages sixteen and eighteen, depending on the state.[7] This requirement can be satisfied in public schools, state-certified private schools, or an approved home schoolprogram. In most schools, education is divided into three levels: elementary school, middle or junior high school, and high school. Children are usually divided by age groups into grades, ranging from kindergarten and first grade for the youngest children, up to twelfth grade as the final year of high school.

There are also a large number and wide variety of publicly and privately administered institutions of higher education throughout the country.Post-secondary education, divided into college, as the first tertiary degree, and graduate school, is described in a separate section below.

The United States spends more per student on education than any other country.[8] In 2014, the Pearson/Economist Intelligence Unit rated US education as 14th best in the world, just behind Russia.[9] On the other hand, of the top ten colleges and universities in the world, eight are American.[10][better source needed] (The other two are Oxford and Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.)

Government-supported and free public schools for all began to be established after the American Revolution. Between 1750 and 1870 parochial schools appeared as "ad hoc" efforts by parishes. Historically, many parochial elementary schools were developed which were open to all children in the parish, mainly Catholics, but also Lutherans, Calvinists and Orthodox Jews. Nonsectarian Common schools designed by Horace Mann were opened, which taught the three Rs (of reading, writing, and arithmetic) and also history and geography.

In 1823, Reverend Samuel Read Hall founded the first normal school, the Columbian School in Concord, Vermont,[11][12] to improve the quality of the burgeoning common school system by producing more qualified teachers.

States passed laws to make schooling compulsory between 1852 (Massachusetts) and 1917 (Mississippi). They also used federal funding designated by the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Acts of 1862 and 1890 to set up land grant colleges specializing in agriculture and engineering. By 1870, every state had free elementary schools,[13] albeit only in urban centers.

Starting from about 1876, thirty-nine states passed a constitutional amendment to their state constitutions, called Blaine Amendments after James G. Blaine, one of their chief promoters, forbidding the use of public tax money to fund local parochial schools.

Following the American Civil War, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was founded in 1881, in Tuskegee, Alabama, to train "Colored Teachers," led by Booker T. Washington, (1856-1915), who was himself a freed slave. His movement spread to many other Southern states to establish small colleges for "Colored or Negro" students entitled "A. & M.," ("Agricultural and Mechanical") or "A. & T.," ("Agricultural and Technical"), some of which later developed into state universities.

Responding to many competing academic philosophies being promoted at the time, an influential working group of educators, known as the Committee of Ten, and established in 1892 by the National Education Association, recommended that children should receive twelve years of instruction, consisting of eight years of elementary education (also known as "grammar schools") followed by four years in high school ("freshmen," "sophomores," "juniors," and "seniors").

Gradually by the late 1890s, regional associations of high schools, colleges and universities were being organized to coordinate proper accrediting standards, examinations and regular surveys of various institutions to assure equal treatment in graduation and admissions requirements, course completion and transfer procedures.

By 1910, 72 percent of children attended school. Private schools spread during this time, as well as colleges and -- in the rural centers -- land grant colleges also. Between 1910 and 1940 the high school movement resulted in rapidly increasing public high school enrollment and graduations. By 1930, 100 percent of children attended school[citation needed] (excluding children with significant disabilities or medical concerns).[14]

During World War II, enrollment in high schools and colleges plunged as many high school and college students dropped out to take war jobs.[15][16][17]

The 1946 National School Lunch Act, which is still in operation, provided low-cost or free school lunch meals to qualified low-income students through subsidies to schools, based on the idea that a "full stomach" during the day supported class attention and studying. The 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas made racial desegregation of public elementary and high schools mandatory, although private schools expanded in response to accommodate white families attempting to avoid desegregation by sending their children to private secular or religious schools.[18][19][20]

In 1965, the far-reaching Elementary and Secondary Education Act ('ESEA'), passed as a part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, provided funds for primary and secondary education ('Title I funding') while explicitly forbidding the establishment of a national curriculum.[21] Section IV of the Act created the Pell Grant program which provides financial support to students from low-income families to access higher education.

In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act established funding for special education in schools.

Policy changes have also sometimes slowed equal access to higher education for poorer people. Cuts to the Pell Grant scholarship aid programs in 2012 reduced the number of low-income students who would receive grants.[22]

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 made standardized testing a requirement. The Higher Education Amendments of 1972 made changes to the Pell Grants. The 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education and one free meal a day for children with physical and mental disabilities. The 1983 National Commission on Excellence in Education report, famously titled A Nation at Risk, touched off a wave of local, state, and federal reform efforts, but by 1990 the country still only spent 2 per cent of its budget on education, compared with 30 per cent on support for the elderly.[23] In 1990, the EHA was replaced with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which placed more focus on students as individuals, and also provided for more post-high school transition services.

The 2002 No Child Left Behind, passed by a bipartisan coalition in Congress provided federal aid to the states in exchange for measures to penalize schools that were not meeting the goals as measured by standardized state exams in mathematics and language skills.[24][25][26] In the same year, the U.S. Supreme Court diluted some of the century-old "Blaine" laws upheld an Ohio law allowing aid to parochial schools under specific circumstances.[27] The 2006 Commission on the Future of Higher Education evaluated higher education.

In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed legislation replacing No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act


In 2000, 76.6 million students had enrolled in schools from Kindergarten through graduate schools. Of these, 72 percent aged 12 to 17 were considered academically "on track" for their age, i.e. enrolled in at or above grade level. Of those enrolled elementary and secondary schools, 5.2 million (10.4 percent) attended private schools.[citation needed]

Over 85 percent of the adult population have completed high school and 27 percent have received a bachelor's degree or higher. The average salary for college or university graduates is greater than $51,000, exceeding the national average of those without a high school diploma by more than $23,000, according to a 2005 study by the U.S. Census Bureau.[29] The 2010unemployment rate for high school graduates was 10.8%; the rate for college graduates was 4.9%. [30]

The country has a reading literacy rate of 99% of the population over age 15,[31] while ranking below average in science and mathematics understanding compared to other developed countries.[32] In 2008, there was a 77% graduation rate from high school, below that of most developed countries.[33]

The poor performance has pushed public and private efforts such as the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, the ratio of college-educated adults entering the workforce to general population (33%) is slightly below the mean of other[which?] developed countries (35%)[34] and rate of participation of the labor force in continuing education is high.[35] A 2000s (decade) study by Jon Miller of Michigan State University concluded that "A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults".[36] school private public education

According to the National Association of School Nurses, 17% of students are considered obese and 32% are overweight.[37]

Educational stages

Formal education in the U.S. is divided into a number of distinct educational stages. Most children enter the public education system around ages five or six. Children are assigned into year groups known as grades.

The American school year traditionally begins at the end of August or the day after Labor Day in September, after a traditional summer recess. Children customarily advance together from one grade to the next as a single cohort or "class" upon reaching the end of each school year in late May or early June.

Depending upon their circumstances, they may begin school in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten or first grade. They normally attend 12 grades of study over 12 calendar years of primary/elementary and secondary education before graduating, earning a diploma that makes them eligible for admission to higher education. Education is mandatory until age 16. There are generally six years of primary (elementary) school, three years of middle school, and four years of high school. There is some variability in the arrangement of grades.

In the U.S., ordinal numbers (e.g., first grade) are used for identifying grades. Typical ages and grade groupings in contemporary, public and private schools may be found through theU.S. Department of Education. Generally there are elementary school (K-5th grade), middle school (6th-8th grades) and high school (9th-12th grades).[38] Some schools differ in the grades they contain.

Students completing high school may choose to attend a college or university, which offer undergraduate degrees such as Associate's degrees or Bachelor's degrees (baccalaureate).

Community college or junior college typically offer two-year associate degrees, although some community colleges offer a limited number of bachelor's degrees. Some community college students choose to transfer to a four-year institution to pursue a bachelor's degree. Community colleges are generally publicly funded (usually by local cities or counties) and offer career certifications and part-time programs.

Four-year institutions may be public or private colleges or universities.

Some counties and cities have established and funded four-year institutions. Some of these institutions, such as the City University of New York, City Colleges of Chicago, and San Francisco City College, are still operated by local governments. Others such as the University of Louisville and Wichita State University are now operated as state universities.

Private institutions are privately funded and there is a wide variety in size, focus, and operation. Some private institutions are large research universities, while others are small liberal arts colleges that concentrate on undergraduate education. Some private universities are nonsectarian and secular, while others are religiously-affiliated. While most private institutions are non-profit, a growing number in the past decade have been established as for-profit.

Curriculum varies widely depending on the institution. Typically, an undergraduate student will be able to select an academic "major" or concentration, which comprises the main or special subjects, and students may change their major one or more times.

Some students, typically those with a bachelor's degree, may choose to continue on to graduate or professional school, sometimes attached to a university. Graduate degrees may be either master's degrees (e.g., M.A., M.S., M.B.A., M.S.W.) or a doctorates (e.g., Ph.D., J.D., ("Doctor of Law"), M.D., D.O.). Programs range from full-time, evening and executive which allows for flexibility with students' schedules.[39] Academia-focused graduate school typically includes some combination of coursework and research (often requiring a thesis ordissertation to be written), while professional graduate-level schools grants a first professional degree. These include medical, law, business, education, divinity, art, journalism, social work, architecture, and engineering schools.


In K-12 education, sometimes students who receive failing grades are held back a year and repeat coursework in the hope of earning satisfactory scores on the second try.

High school graduates sometimes take a gap year before the first year of college, for travel, work, public service, or independent learning.

Of students who were freshmen in 2005 seeking bachelor's degrees at public institutions, 32% took four years, 12% took five years, 6% took six years, and 43% did not graduate within six years. The numbers for private non-profit institutions were 52% in four, 10% in five, 4% in six, and 35% failing to graduate.[40]

Some undergraduate institutions offer an accelerated three-year bachelor's degree, or a combined five-year bachelor's and master's degrees.

Many graduate students do not start professional schools immediately after finishing undergraduate studies, but work for a time while saving up money or deciding on a career direction.

The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 1999-2000, 73% of people attending institutions of higher education were non-traditional students.[41]

K-12 education

Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States, but the age range for which school attendance is required varies from state to state. Some states allow students to leave school between 14-17 with parental permission, before finishing high school; other states require students to stay in school until age 18.[42] Public (free) education is typically from kindergarten to grade 12 and is thus referred to as K-12 (short for K through twelve).

Most parents send their children to either a public or private institution. According to government data, one-tenth of students are enrolled in private schools. Approximately 85% of students enter the public schools,[43] largely because they are tax-subsidized (tax burdens by school districts vary from area to area). School districts are usually separate from other local jurisdictions, with independent officials and budgets.

There are more than 14,000 school districts in the country,[44] and more than $500 billion is spent each year on public primary and secondary education.[44] Most states require that their school districts within the state teach for 180 days a year.[45] In 2010, there were 3,823,142 teachers in public, charter, private, and Catholic elementary and secondary schools. They taught a total of 55,203,000 students, who attended one of 132,656 schools.[46]

Most children begin elementary education with kindergarten (usually five to six years old) and finish secondary education with twelfth grade (usually 17-18 years old). In some cases, pupils may be promoted beyond the next regular grade. Parents may also choose to educate their own children at home; 1.7% of children are educated in this manner.[43][clarification needed]

Around 3 million students between the ages of 16 and 24 drop out of high school each year, a rate of 6.6 percent as of 2012.[citation needed] In the United States, 75 percent of crimes are committed by high school dropouts. Around 60 percent of black dropouts end up spending time incarcerated.[47] The incarceration rate for African-American male high school dropouts was about 50 times the national average as of 2010.[48]

States do not require reporting from their school districts to allow analysis of efficiency of return on investment. The Center for American Progress commends Florida and Texas as the only two states that provide annual school-level productivity evaluations which report to the public how well school funds are being spent at the local level. This allows for comparison of school districts within a state.[49][50] In 2010, American students rank 17th in the world. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that this is due to focusing on the low end of performers. All of the recent gains have been made, deliberately, at the low end of the socioeconomic scale and among the lowest achievers. The country has been outrun, the study says, by other nations because the US has not done enough to encourage the highest achievers.[51]

About half of the states encourage schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.[52]

Teachers worked from about 35 to 46 hours a week, in a survey taken in 1993.[53] In 2011, American teachers worked 1,097 hours in the classroom, the most for any industrialized nation measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They spend 1,913 hours a year on their work, just below the national average of 1,932 hours for all workers.[54] In 2011, the average annual salary of a preK-12 teacher was $55,040.[55]

Transporting students to and from school is a major concern for most school districts. School buses provide the largest mass transit program in the country, 8.8 billion trips per year. Non-school transit buses give 5.2 billion trips annually. 440,000 yellow school buses carry over 24 million students to and from schools.[56] In 1971, the Supreme Court ruledunanimously that forced busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation.[57] This ruling resulted in a white flight from the inner cities which largely diluted the intent of the order. This flight had other, non-educational ramifications as well. Integration took place in most schools though de facto segregation often determined the composition of the student body. By the 1990s, most areas of the country have been released from mandatory busing.

School start times are computed with busing in mind. There are often three start times: for elementary, for middle/junior high school, and for high school. One school district computed its cost per bus (without the driver) at $20,575 annually. It assumed a model where the average driver drove 80 miles per day. A driver was presumed to cost $.62 per mile (1.6 km). Elementary schools started at 7:30, middle schools/junior high school started at 8:30, and high schools at 8:15. While elementary school started earlier, they also finish earlier, at 2:30, middle schools at 3:30 and high schools at 3:20.[58] All school districts establish their own times and means of transportation within guidelines set by their own state.

Preschool and Pre-Kindergarten

Main article: Pre-kindergarten

Preschool encompasses non-compulsory classroom-based early-childhood education prior to the age of five to six. Pre-kindergarten (also called Pre-K or PK) is the preschool year immediately studied before the year of Kindergarten, which is typically studied at age five to six. Preschool education may be delivered through a preschool or as a reception year inElementary school. Head Start Program, the federally funded pre-kindergarten program founded in 1965 prepares children, especially those of a disadvantaged population, to better succeed in school. However, limited seats are available to students aspiring to take part in the Head Start Program. Many community-based programs, commercial enterprises, non-profit organizations, faith communities, and independent childcare providers offer preschool education. Preschool may be general or may have a particular focus, such as arts education, religious education, sports training, or foreign language learning, along with providing general education.[citation needed]

Primary education

A teacher and her students in an elementary school classroom

Historically, in the United States, local public control (and private alternatives) have allowed for some variation in the organization of schools.Elementary school includes kindergarten through fifth grade (or sometimes, to fourth grade, sixth grade or eighth grade). Basic subjects are taught in elementary school, and students often remain in one classroom throughout the school day, except for specialized programs, such asphysical education, library, music, and art classes. There are (as of 2001) about 3.6 million children in each grade in the United States.[59]

Typically, the curriculum in public elementary education is determined by individual school districts. The school district selects curriculum guides and textbooks that reflect a state's learning standards and benchmarks for a given grade level.[60] Learning Standards are the goals by which states and school districts must meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This description of school governance is simplistic at best, however, and school systems vary widely not only in the way curricular decisions are made but also in how teaching and learning take place. Some states and/or school districts impose more top-down mandates than others. In others, teachers play a significant role in curriculum design and there are few top-down mandates. Curricular decisions within private schools are often made differently from in public schools, and in most cases without consideration of NCLB.

Public elementary school teachers typically instruct between twenty and thirty students of diverse learning needs. A typical classroom will include children with a range of learning needs or abilities, from those identified as having special needs of the kinds listed in the Individuals with Disabilities Act IDEA to those that are cognitively, athletically or artistically gifted. At times, an individual school district identifies areas of need within the curriculum. Teachers and advisory administrators form committees to develop supplemental materials to support learning for diverse learners and to identify enrichment for textbooks. Many school districts post information about the curriculum and supplemental materials on websites for public access.[61]

In general, a student learns basic arithmetic and sometimes rudimentary algebra in mathematics, English proficiency (such as basic grammar, spelling, and vocabulary), and fundamentals of other subjects. Learning standards are identified for all areas of a curriculum by individual States, including those for mathematics, social studies, science, physical development, the fine arts, and reading.[60] While the concept of State Learning standards has been around for some time, No Child Left Behind has mandated that standards exist at the State level.

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