School System in the United States

Education in the United States consists of separate stages of education – preschool, primary school, secondary school and higher school. It is monitored and funded at three levels: federal, state, and local.

Education programs may vary between states and school districts, but all states are required by law to check students in public schools to make sure they reach the desired minimum education level.


Higher education institutions vary greatly in the quality of education. 8 Ivy League universities are considered one of the most prestigious, both in the US and around the world.

The United States ranks 10th among industrialized countries in the percentage of adults with higher education as of 2010.

Literacy rate in the USA is 99% (2008), in 2011 46% of people aged 25 and over had a secondary education, 30% had a bachelor’s degree. The main language of instruction is English.


The duration and age for starting compulsory education vary by state. Studying begins at the age of 5 to 8 years and ends at the age of 18 to 19 years.

At the age of about 5 years old, American children go to elementary school (English elementary school), in kindergarten. This class is optional in some states. However, almost all American children visit kindergarten. Kindergartens are literally called “pre-school”.

Primary school lasts until the fifth or sixth grade (depending on the school district), after which the student goes to high school (middle school), which ends in eighth grade. High school is the ninth to twelfth grades, so Americans usually finish secondary education at age 18.

Those who have completed secondary education can enroll in community colleges, also called elementary colleges (junior college), technical colleges or city colleges which, after two years of study, issue a degree (associate’s degree). Another opportunity to continue studying is to enter colleges or universities, where they receive a bachelor’s degree (studying usually lasts four years). Those who receive a bachelor’s degree can study further to obtain a master’s degree (2-3 years) or a Ph.D. (3 years or more). Separately accredited faculties and universities issue degrees of doctors of medicine and doctors of law, for which special training is also required at the bachelor’s level.

Primary and secondary education

Free public schools are run mainly by democratically elected school boards, each of which has jurisdiction over the school district, whose boundaries often (but not always) coincide with the boundaries of the district or city, and which contain one or more schools of each level. School boards establish school programs, hire teachers, and determine funding for programs. States regulate education within their borders, setting standards and examining students. State funding for schools is often determined by how much their students have achieved exams.

Money for schools is taken mainly from local (city) property taxes.

Approximately 87% of children attend public schools. For example, in 2013, about 87% of school-age children received education in free public schools, about 10% in private schools and 3% received home education. Many paid private schools are religious. The most widespread network of Catholic schools, which initiated the Irish immigrants in the second half of the XIX century. Other private schools, often very expensive and sometimes with great competition for admission, exist to prepare students for admission to prestigious universities. There are even boarding schools for students from all over the country, such as the Phillips Academy at Exeter in New Hampshire.

About 3% of parents decide to educate their children at home. Some religious conservatives do not want their children to be taught ideas with which they disagree, most often theories of evolution. Others believe that schools cannot meet the needs of their lagging or, conversely, brilliant children. Still others want to protect children from drugs and crime, which are a problem for some schools. In many places, parents teaching their children at home form groups in which they help each other, and sometimes even different parents teach children different things. Many also supplement their lessons with distance learning programs and classes at local colleges.

Elementary school

Primary education tends to focus on basic academic learning and socialization skills, attracting children to the wide range of knowledge, skills (including behavior and communication) that they need to succeed in life and especially in high school.

Elementary schools (grade schools or grammar schools) usually teach children from the age of 5 to 11 or 12. One teacher teaches all subjects except fine arts, music and physical education. Academic subjects, as a rule, include arithmetic, reading and writing, with an emphasis on spelling and increasing vocabulary. Some school teach natural and social sciences. Often social sciences take the form of local history.

Often in primary school, instruction consists of art projects, excursions, and other forms of learning through entertainment.

Secondary school

Secondary schools (middle schools, junior high schools, or intermediate schools) usually teach children aged 11 or 12 to 14 years old – from the sixth or seventh to eighth grade. Recently the sixth grade is increasingly being included in high school. Usually in high school, unlike primary, one teacher teaches one subject. Compulsory subjects are mathematics, English, natural sciences, social sciences (often include world history) and physical education. Students choose one or two subjects themselves, usually these are foreign languages, art and technology.

In high school, the separation of students into ordinary and advanced streams also begins. Students who learn better than others in this subject can study in an advanced class, where they pass material faster and do more homework. Recently such classes, especially in the humanitarian disciplines, have been eliminated in some places: critics believe that isolating well-performing students does not allow poorly-performing students to pull themselves up.

High school

High school is the last stage of secondary education in the United States, lasting from the ninth to twelfth grade. In high school, students can choose subjects more freely than before, and only have to fulfill the minimum criteria for obtaining a diploma, which sets the school council. Typical minimum requirements are:

  • 3 years of study of mathematics, up to the second year of algebra (mathematics in secondary and high schools is usually divided into the first year of algebra, geometry, the second year of algebra, an introduction to analysis and mathematical analysis, and is carried out in this order);
  • 4 years of study of literature;
  • 2-4 years of study of social sciences, usually including the history and government of the United States;
  • 1-2 years of studying physical education.

For admission to many universities, students need to complete a more complete program, including 2-4 years of learning a foreign language. Most well-known universities clearly indicate the requirements for subjects that a future applicant must pass in school.

Students must choose the remaining subjects themselves. The set of such items can be different in quantity and quality, depending on the financial situation of the school and the inclinations of students. A typical set of optional classes is:

  • additional sciences (statistics, computer science, environics);
  • foreign languages ​​(most often Spanish, French and German; less often Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Latin and Greek);
  • fine arts (painting, sculpture, photography, cinema);
  • game art (theater, orchestra, dance);
  • computer equipment (computer use, computer graphics, web design);
  • publishing (journalism, editing the yearbook);
  • labor (wood processing, car repair).

In some cases, the student may not study in any classroom at all.

In high school, especially in the last two years, a new type of advanced class is emerging. Students can choose the subjects that they should prepare for Advanced Placement exams or International Baccalaureate. Most universities count a good mark in these exams as an initial course in the relevant subject.

Advanced Placement (abbreviated as AP) is a paid educational program whose task is to prepare high school students for study at universities in Canada, the USA and the UK. It allows you to save financial costs and time when studying at a higher school since a student can learn the program of the first semesters even before entering a university. After completing the courses, students take an exam and submit the results along with other documents to the university.

Grades, both at school and in universities, are issued according to the A / B / C / D / F system, where A is the best mark, F is unsatisfactory, and D can be considered satisfactory or unsatisfactory, depending on the circumstances. All marks except F can be marked with “+” or “-”. In some schools, grades A + and D− do not exist. The average mark is calculated from these marks (grade point average, abbr. GPA),. Grades for advanced classes in a school often rise by a point, that is, A counts as 5, and so on.

Secondary education also has a number of problems. According to the US Secretary of Education, the school system is in stagnation and is losing out in competition with other countries. The country was in 18th place out of 36 in the ranking according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Approximately 25% of students cannot complete their studies on time and do not cope with exams.

“I am not the same person I was when I came to high school. I am also not the same person I was a year ago. Marian has shaped me into an independent secure person. Because of...”

—Caitlyn ‘16

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