Elementary and Secondary 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. Most children begin elementary education with kindergarten (usually five to six years old) and finish secondary education with twelfth grade (usually eighteen years old). In some cases, pupils may be promoted beyond the next regular grade. 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.

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, largely because they are tax-subsidized (tax burdens by school districts vary from area to area).

There are more than 14,000 school districts in the country.

More than $500 billion is spent each year on primary and secondary education.

Most states require that their school districts within the state teach for 180 days a year.

Parents may also choose to educate their own children at home; 1.7% of children are educated in this manner.

Nearly 6.2 million students between the ages of 16 and 24 in 2007 dropped out of high school, including nearly three of 10 Hispanics.

The issue of high-school drop-outs is considered important to address as the incarceration rate for African-American male high school dropouts is about 50 (fifty) times the national average.

In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that forced busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. 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.

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.

States do not require proper reporting from their school districts to allow analysis of efficiency of return on investment. The Center for American Progress, called a "left-leaning think tank", commends Florida and Texas as the only two states that provides 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.

In 2010, American students rank 17th in the world. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation 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.

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

Teachers worked from about 35 to 46 hours a week in a survey taken in 1993.

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 school.

School start times are computed with busing in mind. There are often three start times; for elementary, for middle/junior high, 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 8:15 and senior high schools at 9:00. While elementary school started earlier, they also get out earlier, at 2:25; middle schools at 3:10 and senior high schools at 3:55. All school districts establish their own times and means of transportation within guidelines set forth by their own state.

Elementary school
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). In elementary school, basic subjects are taught, and students often remain in one or two classrooms throughout the school day, with the exceptions of physical education ("P.E." or "gym"), library, music, and art classes. There are (as of 2001) about 3.6 million children in each grade in the United States.

Typically, the curriculum in public elementary education is determined by individual school districts. The school district selects curriculum guides and textbooks that are reflective of a state's learning standards and benchmarks for a given grade level. 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 made differently than they are 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.

Each local school district gives each teacher a book to give to the students for each subject, and brief overviews of what the teacher are expected to teach. 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. 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.

Elementary School teachers are trained with emphases on human cognitive and psychological development and the principles of curriculum development and instruction. Teachers typically earn either a Bachelors or Masters Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. The teaching of social studies and science are often underdeveloped in elementary school programs. Some attribute this to the fact that elementary school teachers are trained as generalists; however, teachers attribute this to the priority placed on developing reading, writing and math proficiency in the elementary grades and to the large amount of time needed to do so. Reading, writing and math proficiency greatly affect performance in social studies, science and other content areas. Certification standards for teachers are determined by individual states, with individual colleges and universities determining the rigor of the college education provided for future teachers. Some states require content area tests, as well as instructional skills tests for teacher certification in that state.

The broad topic of Social Studies may include key events, documents, understandings, and concepts in American history, and geography, and in some programs, state or local history and geography. Topics included under the broader term "science" vary from the physical sciences such as physics and chemistry, through the biological sciences such as biology, ecology, and physiology. Most States have predetermined the number of minutes that will be taught within a given content area. Because No Child Left Behind focuses on reading and math as primary targets for improvement, other instructional areas have received less attention There is much discussion within educational circles about the justification and impact of having curricula that place greater emphasis on those topics (reading, writing and math) that are specifically tested for improvement.

Secondary Education
As part of education in the United States, secondary education usually covers grades 6 through 9 or 10 through 12.

Junior and senior high school
Middle school and Junior high school include the grade levels intermediate between elementary school and senior high school. "Middle school" usually includes sixth, seventh and eighth grade; "Junior high" typically includes seventh through ninth grade. The range defined by either is often based on demographic factors, such as an increase or decrease in the relative numbers of younger or older students, with the aim of maintaining stable school populations.At this time, students are given more independence, moving to different classrooms for different subjects, and being allowed to choose some of their class subjects (electives). Usually, starting in ninth grade, grades become part of a student’s official transcript. Future employers or colleges may want to see steady improvement in grades and a good attendance record on the official transcript. Therefore, students are encouraged to take much more responsibility for their education.

Senior high school is a school attended after junior high school. High school is often used instead of senior high school and distinguished from junior high school. High school usually runs either from 9th through 12th, or 10th through 12th grade. The students in these grades are commonly referred to as freshmen (grade 9), sophomores (grade 10), juniors (grade 11) and seniors (grade 12).

Basic curricular structure
Generally, at the high school level, students take a broad variety of classes without special emphasis in any particular subject. Curricula vary widely in quality and rigidity; for example, some states consider 65 (on a 100-point scale) a passing grade, while others consider it to be as low as 60 or as high as 75. Students are required to take a certain minimum number of mandatory subjects, but may choose additional subjects ("electives") to fill out their required hours of learning.

The following minimum courses of study in mandatory subjects are required in nearly all U.S. high schools:
    Science (usually three years minimum, normally biology, chemistry and physics)
    Mathematics (usually four years minimum, normally including algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, statistics, and even calculus)
    English (usually four years minimum, including literature, humanities, composition, oral languages, etc.)
    Social sciences (usually three years minimum, including various history, government/economics courses)
    Physical education (at least two years)

Many states require a "health" course in which students learn about anatomy, nutrition, first aid, sexuality, drug awareness and birth control. Anti-drug use programs are also usually part of health courses. In many cases, however, options are provided for students to "test out" of this requirement or complete independent study to meet it. Foreign language and some form of art education are also a mandatory part of the curriculum in some schools.

Common types of electives include:

    Computers (word processing, programming, graphic design)
    Athletics (cross country, football, baseball, basketball, track and field, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, water polo, soccer, softball, wrestling, cheerleading, volleyball, lacrosse, ice hockey, field hockey, crew, boxing, skiing/snowboarding, golf, mountain biking)
    Career and Technical Education (Agriculture/Agriscience, Business/Marketing, Family and Consumer Science, Health Occupations, and Technology Education, including Publishing (journalism/student newspaper, yearbook/annual, literary magazine))
    Performing Arts/Visual Arts, (choir, band, orchestra, drama, art, ceramics, photography, and dance)
    Foreign languages (Spanish and French are common; Chinese, Latin, Ancient Greek, German, Italian, Arabic, and Japanese are less common)
    Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps

Advanced courses
Many high schools provide Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. These are special forms of honors classes where the curriculum is more challenging and lessons more aggressively paced than standard courses. AP or IB courses are usually taken during the 11th or 12th grade of high school, but may be taken as early as 9th grade.

Most post-secondary institutions take AP or IB exam results into consideration in the admissions process. Because AP and IB courses are intended to be the equivalent of the first year of college courses, post-secondary institutions may grant unit credit, which enables students to graduate earlier. Other institutions use examinations for placement purposes only: students are exempted from introductory course work but may not receive credit towards a concentration, degree, or core requirement. Institutions vary in the selection of examinations they accept and the scores they require to grant credit or placement, with more elite institutions tending to accept fewer examinations and requiring higher scoring. The lack of AP, IB, and other advanced courses in impoverished inner-city high schools is often seen as a major cause of the greatly differing levels of post-secondary education these graduates go on to receive, compared with both public and private schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

Also, in states with well-developed community college systems, there are often mechanisms by which gifted students may seek permission from their school district to attend community college courses full-time during the summer, and part-time during the school year. The units earned this way can often be transferred to one's university, and can facilitate early graduation. Early college entrance programs are a step further, with students enrolling as freshmen at a younger-than-traditional age.

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