The United States has one of the highest levels of education in the world, with an education rate of 100% among men and women and a reading level of 99% among people over 15. The perfect education level is attributed to the American education system, which is one of the most diverse systems in the world. Basic education is compulsory and enforced by law in all states. During the year 2000, US government data showed that 76.6 million Americans were at different stages of the education system between kindergarten and college. In the United States, education is essential, and higher education is one of the main factors determining the wealth and class of individuals.
1. History of the American education system
The American education system was certainly one of the first implemented systems in the world. Driven by Thomas Jefferson, who instituted reforms at the end of the 18th century, this educational system aimed to allow the schooling of all free children, girls, and boys. However, this measure was not initially adopted because considered too costly by the States. However, it bore fruit since, in 1832, the first free and compulsory elementary school was established in New York State. Thereafter Thomas Jefferson drew the plans of the University of Virginia, of which he became the Rector.
Between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the works and research on pedagogy were largely influenced by the philosopher John Dewey, an essential figure in the current of pragmatism. This philosophical current has certainly lastingly shaped the American education system’s identity, which, like the Anglo-Saxon European educational system, seeks to develop the autonomy and responsibility of students by making them actors of their learning through experimentation in particular.
Noting that for these philosophers, as for Thomas Jefferson previously, the school holds an essential place in the formation of a democratic society.
In the 1950s and 60s of the 20th century, the education system underwent major upheavals, for example, tending towards greater racial equality, particularly in access to higher and university studies.
Finally, in the 1970s, reforms imposed coeducation in all public establishments, and the Bilingual Education Act required all schools to provide bilingual education for children who did not speak English.
2. Structure of the American education system
The formal education system in the United States consists of five main categories: preschool, primary or elementary, middle school, high school or secondary education, and university.
The average enrollment age of preschoolers in the United States is four years. In nursery schools, teachers emphasize the individuality of children where their individual strengths and weaknesses are identified. Children also learn how to develop their expressive skills through interactive activities. Nursery school is the lowest category in the education system and provides basic reading and writing skills, as well as social skills.
2.2 Primary or elementary school
After attending kindergarten, Elementary School is the institution which offers children a basic primary education between 6 and 11. The elementary school is divided into five levels, which include (from lowest to highest) kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and 4th grade. The program taught in elementary school is determined by school district councils with individual school districts having separate programs and includes arithmetic, language proficiency, social studies, and science. Elementary school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in preschool and elementary education.
2.3 Middle school
After graduating from elementary school, children then enter college, which includes 5th grade to 8th grade. The age range of college children is between the 10s and 14s. At the end of the four years of college, students graduate from high school.
2.4 Secondary or high school
The program taught in high school revolved around “core subjects,” which vary by state, with most states having English, math, social studies, and science as the core subjects. Many secondary schools also teach elective courses, including performing arts such as theater and visual arts such as journalism, painting, foreign languages, and vocational education. However, the availability of these optional courses in a school depends mainly on the school’s financial situation. The age group of children in high school is between the 15s and 18s. At the end of their secondary studies, successful students obtain a secondary school diploma attesting that they are ready to follow higher education.
The next level is known as undergraduate education, which features students from the age of 19 until the age of about 22. In the United States, undergraduate education constitutes four years of studies. Upon completion of their studies, students obtain a bachelor’s degree in their field of study.
3. Characteristics of the American education system
3.1 Educational freedom
The American school system is fully decentralized. It is up to each state to make decisions concerning the programs, the manuals, the distribution, and the amount of the expenditure, resulting in great disparities and great flexibility. Thus, concerning the program, for example, publishers use only national goals to create their textbooks. Only twenty-two states publish a list of recommended textbooks; in most states, freedom of choice is total.
3.2 Examinations start in elementary school
The first exams for Americans take place during primary school. At the end of 3d grade, students must pass a test that assesses their knowledge and admits them to the upper class. The same type of exam takes place at the end of 4th grade, and 5th grade. There is even a catch-up session around February / March for those who have failed.
3.3 Flexible courses
In the USA it is possible to choose a program that suits you. Thanks to a game of Major (main field of study), Minor (secondary field of study) and Elective (chosen courses), it is possible to build throughout your diploma a course that suits you and cumulate several fields of study within the same program. A great opportunity for students who are not yet quite sure of their orientation.
3.4 Campus & Infrastructures
Living on an American campus is a unique experience. Everything is available so that students can make the most of their studies.
The academic infrastructure is impressive; it is not uncommon to find on the campuses financial market halls for business students, engineering labs where students can truly experiment and build their projects, artistic creation rooms/media production, etc.
4. Problems encountered by the American education system
The diverse education system in the United States is one of the most costly in the world, with an estimated annual education sector budget of around one trillion dollars. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has reported that the United States government spends more on educational institutions located in wealthy neighborhoods than in institutions located in poorer neighborhoods.
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Originally published on Live Positively.