Education in the United States comprises three basic levels: elementary, secondary and higher education.  Vocational training, adult education, schools or classes for special types of children, and kindergartens also form part of the program in most states.

Parents may choose whether to send their children to their local free public schools, or to private schools which charge fees. The organization and curricula of private schools and colleges are similar to those of public schools although the administration differs.  Public and private schools maintain many cooperative links through the transfer of students and various other contacts.  The vast majority of students at the primary and secondary levels go to public school.  Most of those who attend private school attend church-sponsored parochial schools or schools that hold to a specific religious or philosophical doctrine.

The school year is usually nine months, from early September to mid-June.  The common pattern of organization, referred to as the 6-3-3 plan, includes elementary school in grades 1 through 6, junior high school in grades 7 through 9, and high school in grades 10 through 12.  The older 8-4 plan, however, in which grades 1 through 8 were in elementary school and 9 through 12 were in high school, continues in many localities.  Some localities use a 6-6 program: 1 through 6 in elementary or primary school, 7-12 in secondary school.  In most localities groups of elementary or primary schools feed a single junior high school (groups of which will then feed the next level), secondary or high schools.

Preschool Education.
A child’s introduction to formal education is usually in kindergarten classes operated in most public school systems.  Many systems also provide nursery schools. The age group is commonly four and five year olds.  Preschool education programs maintain a close relationship with the home and parents, and aim to give children useful experiences which will prepare them for elementary school.  The programs are flexible and focus on developing basic skills that will help young children build self-reliance and confidence, learn to get along with others, and form good work and play habits.

Elementary School.
The main purpose of the elementary school is the general intellectual and social development of the child from 6 to 12 or 15 years of age.  Curricula vary with the organization and educational aims of individual schools and communities.  The more or less traditional program consists of teaching prescribed subject matter.  Promotion from one grade tot he next is based on the pupil’s achievement of specified skills in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, history, geography, music and art.

Secondary School.
Most pupils follow a course that includes English, science, social studies (history, geography, civics, anthropology, etc.), mathematics, and physical education.  Elective subjects may be chosen in the fields of foreign languages, fine arts and vocational training.  Pupils usually elect half their work in grades nine through twelve.

During the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Guidance counseling is important to help pupils find their way through early adolescence and as they begin to plan their careers and select subjects that will be useful in their chosen work.  Guidance counseling continues throughout the senior high school years and into college, particularly in the junior college or the first two years of the four-year college.

In general, basic subjects are required in the 10th through 12th grades, but in some high schools students may elect an increasing proportion of their work according to their interests.  In addition to these basic subjects – English, science, mathematics, social studies, physical education – larger school systems may offer a selection of courses aimed at three or more levels – academic, vocational, and general. 

  • The academic program is designed to prepare students for college.  Among the subjects added to the core are more advanced mathematics, science courses and foreign languages.  These courses are guided by standardized AP (advanced placement) tests, the scores of which are considered for course placement when students enter college or other institutions of higher learning.
  • The vocational program may give training in four fields: agricultural education, which prepares the students for farm management and operation; business education, which trains students for the commercial field; economics, which trains students for home management, child care and care of the sick; and trade and industrial education, which provided training and skills development for jobs in mechanical, manufaturing, building, secretarial and other trades or professions.  This program prepares students either for employment or further training.
  • The third – general  or comprehensive – program provides features of the academic and vocational types.  Its introductory courses give an appreciation of the various trades and industrial arts rather than training for specific jobs.  Those who do not expect to go to college or enter a particular trade immediately, but who want the benefits of schooling and a high school diploma, often follow the general course.

  • A recent study by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform) recommended a program of five “new basics” for the final four years of secondary school.  The minimum course of study for any student seeking a high school diploma would include: fur years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, three years of social studies and one-half year of computer science.  For the college-bound, the Commission strongly recommended two years of a foreign language in high school.

    Most young Americans graduate from school with a high school diploma upon satisfactory completion of a specified number of courses.  Students are usually graded from A (excellent) to F (failing) in each course they take on the basis of performance in tests given at intervals throughout the year, participation in class discussions, and completion of written and oral assignments.  Locally developed end-of-the-year examinations are given in many schools.  Some states, such as New York, give statewide examinations which are prepared by the state department of education.  These tests serve to monitor the statewide differences in education and theoretically help administrators and teachers address shortcomings.

    Students receive “report cards” at least twice a year (in some school districts, up to six times).  These indicate the grade students have received in each of the subjects they are studying.  High schools maintain a school “transcript” which summarizes the courses taken and the grades obtained for each student.  A copy of the transcript is normally submitted to colleges when a student applies for admission.

    College-bound students generally take college admission tests (SATs) during their last two years of high school.  These tests are administered by the privately operated Educational Testing Service (ETS) and American College Testing Program (ACT), and are mostly multiple choice.  They are designed primarily to measure aptitude and verbal and mathematical skills rather than substantive knowledge.  Test scores, added to high school transcripts and recommendations from teachers, form the basis for college acceptance.

    Usually, the pupil has one teacher for all major subjects during each of his or her first six years of schooling.  For the upper six grades, however, a separate teacher will most likely teach each discipline.  In some schools there is great opportunity for students to progress at their own pace in each subject using some of the latest teaching machines and programmed learning material. 

    Other innovations in the American secondary school organization include programs to keep the school buildings in use year round.  “Keep the school doors open” became a popular slogan among American educators in the mid-1970s.  They argued that closing most school buildings from June to September was a waste of time and talent and, more often than not, an unnecessary break in the learning process.  Many schools now offer summer courses – some of which are remedial in nature, others as designed to satiate the thirst for advanced training or learning – which students may not have time to pursue during the regular school year, or find in the regular school curriculum.  Many of the “summer school” academic offerings are at the advanced level, for which they receive college-level credit.

    United States Information Agency
    United States Department of Education
    National Education Association

           Other Essays:
    History Control and Financing
    Organization and Structure 
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    The Role of Higher Education

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