The American education system requires that students complete 12 years of primary and secondary education, either in a public, private or home school setting. The age at which school attendance becomes compulsory varies from state to state, but most students begin Kindergarten at about age 5 or 6 and finish the 12th grade around age 18.
U.S. schools divide into three categories: elementary school, middle school or junior high, and high school. The exact grade breakdowns depend on the state, but elementary usually includes children from Kindergarten through 4th, 5th or 6th grades. Middle school or junior high can cover students anywhere from 5th to 8th grade and high school usually includes 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades where students call themselves freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. After completing the 12th grade, a student receives a high school diploma. Students who choose not to complete all 12 years of school can take an exam called the General Educational Development test, or GED, a series of five tests that can earn them a high school equivalency certificate.
Locally elected school boards have jurisdiction over school districts and run independently from other local government jurisdictions. The law requires tax-funded public schools to provide an education to everyone of school age within their district, at no cost. These schools receive federal, state and local funding largely based on standardized testing scores and local property taxes. Privately funded private schools charge tuition and can select who they accept into their program. Costs vary according to location, private funding and school expenses.
In order to advance to college-level schooling after high school, students must apply for acceptance at either a public or private university. These institutions base their admissions on a high school diploma (or GED) and many other criteria, including high school grades and GPA or grade point-average, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities and other accomplishments. Higher education, as any schooling beyond the basic 12 years of school is called, always involves a cost. Public or state-funded schools cost less than private schools.
The academic school year in the U.S. generally runs from mid- to late August or early September through the end of May or mid- June, although variations and exceptions have been introduced in some school districts and specific institutions providing more frequent, shorter breaks that eliminate the longer summer break. State law requirements establish what number of days students must spend at school. Factoring in the holidays and seasonal breaks, most states average around 180 days of school per academic year.
In America all children under the age of 18 are required by law to be in school and no one is denied the right to an education. Before a student in America reaches the age of 18 years old they have been through four different levels of education. These four levels are preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school. Students are encouraged after high school to pursue college before attempting a career.
Preschool is the first stage in a student’s life. Although it is not mandatory that all children attend preschool, the popularity of this first step to education has increased over die last decade. A child attending preschool will be between the ages of 2-5 years and will learn basic fundamental skills that the rest of their education will be based from. These basic fundamental skills are identifying colors and shapes, learning to say and identify the letters of the alphabet, basic drawing of shapes and letters, spelling of their name using pencil control, counting using the number system, matching, and memory development.
All of these skills help students learn more quickly when taught to apply them at an early age. Then the young students enter Kindergarten competent and confident individuals wanting to learn all they can.
Elementary School consists of kindergarten through the fifth grade. Students in kindergarten and first grade learn to write letters and numbers, phonics, comprehension and listening skills, songs, the days of the week, weather, the telling of time, addition and subtraction. These are just a few of the skills addressed in the primary grades. In second and third grade, students are introduced to science and math, the structure of a complete sentence, organized physical education, reading and writing structure, and in the third grade multiplication tables are introduced. Fourth and fifth grades are reinforcement grades and building blocks off of the basic skills introduced over the primary levels.
Organized music and band is often time available in the later part of these years and many times foreign languages are taught at this stage of education as well. Classrooms are broken into anywhere between 20-30 students per one teacher and possibly a teacher’s aid. It is up to the governing body of each school as to how much of the arts are introduced and at what level of education they are made available. Students are guaranteed a lunch each day they are in school, and support is available for families in financial hardship to ensure a balanced meal while students attend school.
Depending on the school district and area of the country, you could hear the term middle school or junior high with both terms referring to the same educational level. As the name middle school indicates, this term refers to the middle years of schooling between elementary and high school. Although specific grade levels vary by state, it generally covers 6th or 7th through 8th grades.
During these transition years of adolescence, students begin changing classes and teachers according to subject rather than having one teacher for all their core subjects. At this age, teachers begin to expect students to take more responsibility for their own learning as well as manage more homework. Core subjects at the middle school level revolve around Science, Math, English and Social Sciences with reading and technology courses interspersed. Most schools have a P.E. (Physical Education) class requirement as well. Usually at this level, students can only choose one or two elective courses to round out their education. Elective offerings might include visual or performing arts, music/band, athletics or technology.
High school students in the United States often refer to their grade level as freshman, sophomore, junior or senior rather than as 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th graders. By this time they change classes and teachers for every subject and their grades or scores and attendance records have begun to accumulate on an official transcript that will become available to prospective colleges and universities, as well as future employers.
By the time they reach the 12th grade, seniors must have completed and passed a predetermined number of classes in each core subject. A general idea of the requirements for a high school diploma follows:
• Science (usually three years minimum, including biology, chemistry, physics)
• Mathematics (usually three years minimum, including algebra, geometry, algebra II, and/or pre-calculus/trigonometry)
• English (four years)
• Social Science (various history, government, and economics courses, always including American history)
• Physical education (at least one year)
While some schools have foreign language or other course requirements, the rest of the courses taken fall into the “electives” category and depend on the student’s interests or goals. Each school’s selection of these other courses varies according to funding, resources and curriculum emphases. Common electives at the high school level include visual and performing arts, technology, athletics, craftsmanship, publishing and foreign languages.
Upon passing the required number of courses at the high school level, seniors receive a high school diploma at a graduation ceremony and complete their mandatory school requirement. Many high school graduates set their sights on some kind of higher education to enhance their chances of a productive and fulfilling career.
During high school, usually as juniors, students who have set their sights on post¬secondary education can take one or more standardized tests to demonstrate their overall knowledge and learning aptitude. They then submit the results of these exams to colleges and universities to enhance their chances of admission at the institution of their choice. The most common standardized tests that universities look at include the SAT and the ACT.
At the high school level, extracurricular activities become increasingly important and can even influence post-secondary options. Sports, clubs and activities usually require an enormous amount of time and energy in addition to the regular efforts put in to academic studies and homework. Many states employ a “no pass, no play” rule that prohibits students from participating in extracurricular activities if they fail any class(es). This ruling attempts to encourage kids to take care of their academics before pouring their energies into other areas. Students who excel in particular extracurricular activities can earn scholarships toward college education as well as great advantages in career development.