US Education System
US education system is quite similar to that in other countries. It consists of three main stages: primary education (kindergarten and elementary school), secondary education (middle school and high school), and further education (tertiary or higher education).
Compulsory education in the country includes elementary school, middle school, and high school education. It is for children from the age of 5 to the age of 18. The first year of compulsory education is associated with the elementary school, also known in the US as primary school, grade school or grammar school. Elementary education is followed by secondary education. The secondary school in the US is often divided into junior high school (middle school) and senior high school (high school).
Post-secondary education in the US, represented by tertiary education and higher education sectors, is optional. The post-secondary education sector in the US offers a wide range of programs, including non-degree programs that lead to certificates and diplomas and associate, bachelor, first professional, master, advanced intermediate, and research doctorate degrees.
Primary education in the US is for children from the age of 5. Its first stage is associated with attending a kindergarten. Elementary school includes grades from K to 6. After elementary school, students have to attend middle or junior high school. Most of the elementary schools in the US are coeducational, which means that classes are mixed boys and girls.
The curriculum of elementary school varies depending on the organization, educational aims of individual schools and local communities. To pass from one grade to another, a student in the US has to gain specified skills. It means that the promotion is based on student’s achievements. Most of the US schools today use testing as a mean of determining whether a child is ready to move to the next grade. There are some exceptional cases when a student is required to repeat a year.
The main aim of the primary education in the US is to provide a child with instruction in the fundamental skills, including reading, writing, mathematics, social studies such as history and geography, crafts, music, science, art and physical education. The last few years of elementary school also include learning foreign languages. Nevertheless, there are some schools and districts where foreign language classes start at the high school only.
Each student of the elementary school in the US is given some homework. It is worth to mention that the amount of homework in the US is much lower in comparison to many other countries. Nevertheless, the amount of homework increases with higher grades.
Successful students of elementary schools in the US can take part in Gifted Education Programs created for those who do not see regular curriculum as challenging.
Depending on a district, secondary school students can attend a middle school until grade 8 before transferring to a senior high school to study until grade 12, or attend a combined junior-senior high school. The same to primary school sector, secondary education in the US is coeducational. It is worth to mention that in comparison to most high schools in the world, high schools in the US are quite larger. Regional high schools in the country often have a population of over 2000 students.
Secondary school curriculum generally includes learning such subjects as English, mathematics, general science, health, physical education and social studies or social sciences. In some high schools, students are tracked for academic subjects and the most successful students have an opportunity to take enriched classes in several academic subjects. Such notion is known as the ‘fast track’. It is interesting to know that the best students can also take some college level classes available at the last two years of high school.
In addition to mandatory subjects mentioned before, each student can choose some optional subjects known as ‘electives’. Those ‘electives’ supplement student’s future education and career plans. For example, students who have plans to go on to college or university elect courses with an emphasis on academic sciences, higher mathematics, advanced English literature, composition, social sciences and foreign languages. Generally, secondary schools offer a wide range of subjects from which students can choose a program which will lead to college or university entrance, as well as a career in business or industry.
Each student in the US receives a high school diploma after the successful completion of the 12th grade. It is worth to mention that the process of graduation is associated with all stages of compulsory education, including even pre-school education. Starting from high school, graduation is associated with ceremonies that celebrate the new stage of student’s life with caps, gowns, diplomas, and speeches by staff and students. Such ceremonies are known in the US as ‘commencements’. Americans are very enthusiastic about life-cycle events and that is why commencements usually mean great celebrations. Nearly every student of American school dreams to be chosen as the ‘valedictorian’. It is considered as an honor for students to give the valedictorian oration or farewell speech at the graduation ceremony.
After a student completes 12 years of elementary and secondary education, it is possible to go directly to work or to continue the study. All those who want to continue their study have to receive high school diploma or to pass General Education Development tests (GED).
The higher education sector in the USA is represented by such educational institutions as four-year colleges, universities, community colleges, professional institutes, and performing and visual arts schools. It is important to know that post-secondary educational institutions in the US differ from their overseas counterparts in a number of ways. The most notable difference is represented by the grading system. The higher education sector in the US offers an enormous diversity of subjects, programs, and college degree levels.
There are four-year colleges where students can get a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts studies, as well as there are universities which offer the same programs. Both four-year colleges and universities also offer undergraduate programs. Big universities offer undergraduate programs specialized majors, such as business, science, technology, engineering, math, pre-med, fine arts, and design. Degrees and graduate programs in these and other majors are also available in universities. There is also a chance to get a combined bachelor/master degree offered by big universities. While normally the completion of such programs takes six or eight years, combined programs last for five years. Such programs are available in the fields of teaching, law, medicine, and business.
There are also post-secondary institutions in the US that do not grant bachelor’s degrees. These are two-year community colleges and specialized professional institutes.
Specialized professional institutes offer training courses in such fields as computer technology, fashion design, cosmetology, physical therapy, business studies, fine art, photography, audio/visual technology, and theater arts.
Two-year community colleges offer college level courses in a variety of subjects, starting from philosophy to pre-med. Education is such colleges is often less expensive than education if four-year colleges or universities. Two-year colleges provide their students with associate’s degree known as the ‘degree instead of bachelor’s’. After a student completes two-year college program, it is possible to continue education and to apply for a four-year college or university.