I. Introduction.2 II. Historical background.3 III. Terminology.9 IV. General facts.9 IV.1. The boards of education.9 IV.2. Accreditation of schools.11 V. Preschool.12 V.1. Compulsory Education.13 VI. Elementary school (Kindergarten through Grade 5/6).14 VII. Middle school (Grades 6/7 through 8).15 VIII. High school (Grades 9 through 12).15 VIII.1. Basic curricular structure.16 VIII.2. Grade Structure.16 VIII.3. Grade Names.17 VIII.4. College Admissions.17 VIII.5. Extracurricular Work.17 VIII.6. Testing.18 VIII.6.1. Standardized Testing.18 VIII.6.3. Subject-Specific Tests.19 VIII.6.4. AP exams.20 VII.6.5. Additional options for gifted students.20 VIII.6.6. The SATs and the ACT.21 IX. College or University.29 IX.1. Terminology.30 IX.2. The origin of America's usage.31 IX.3. Selective admissions.33 IX.4. The Bachelor’s Degree.33 IX.5. Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees.34 IX.6. Cost.36 IX.7. The status ladder.37 IX. A few more facts.39
I. Introduction The national system of formal education in the United States developed in the 19th century. It differed from education systems of other Western societies in three fundamental respects. First, Americans were more inclined to regard education as a solution to various social problems. Second, because they had this confidence in the power of education, Americans provided more years of schooling for a larger percentage of the population than other countries. Third, educational institutions were primarily governed by local authorities rather than by federal ones. Education in the United States is highly decentralized with funding and curriculum decisions taking place mostly at the local level through school boards. Educational standards are generally set by state agencies. The federal government of the United States through the U.S. Department of Education is involved with funding of some programs and exerts some influence through its ability to control funding. Accreditation of schools is accomplished by voluntary regional associations of educational institutions. The most notable characteristic of the American education system is the large number of people it serves. In 2002, 86 percent of Americans between age 25 and 29 had graduated from high school, 58 percent had completed at least some college, and 29 percent had earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Expanding access to college education is an important priority for the U.S. government. Though the Federal government contributes almost 10% to the national education budget, there is no such thing as a national education system in the USA. Within a general national framework, each state is responsible for its own education system, is largely responsible for financing it, and determining how much money it is willing to spend. In recent years, some states have been spending more than twice as much per pupil on education as other states; in 1994, budgets varied from $3,439 per pupil in Utah to $9,677 per pupil in New Jersey. States also determine the number of years of compulsory education: in most states, education is compulsory from five or six to sixteen; but in some states teens have to stay on in school until age 18. In most places, the public education system is divided into local school districts, which are managed by a school board, representing the local community. School districts can be small, covering just a small town or rural county, or enormous, covering a whole large city; according to their local policy, they will delegate a varying amount of freedom or independence to each individual school within their sector. II. Historical background After the American Revolution (1775-1783), the founders of the United States argued that education was essential for the prosperity and survival of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, proposed that Americans give a high priority to a “crusade against ignorance.” Jefferson was the first American leader to suggest creating a system of free schools for all persons that would be publicly supported through taxes. In 1779 he proposed an education plan that would have supported free schooling for all children in the state of Virginia for three years. The best students from this group would continue in school at public expense through adolescence. The most advanced of these students would go on to publicly funded colleges. Jefferson’s proposal was never enacted and his idea of selecting the best and brightest students for special advantage failed to gain widespread support. However, Jefferson’s plans for universal education and for publicly funded schools formed the basis of education systems developed in the 19th century.
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