The American system of school education

History of school education system in the USA. The role of school education in the USA. Organisation of educational process in American schools. Reforms and innovations in education that enable children to develop their potential as individuals.


The American system of school education

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  • Introduction
    • 1 School education system in the USA
      • 1.1 History of school education system in the USA
      • 1.2 The role of school education in the USA
      • 2 Organisation of educational process in American schools
      • 2.1 Types of schools
      • 2.2 Levels of school education
      • 2.3 School facilities and classrooms
      • 3 Advantages and Problems of the American system of school education
      • 3.1 Advantages of the American system of school education
      • 3.2 Problems in the American system of school education
      • 4 Conclusion
      • 5 Bibliography
    • Introduction
    • The present paper aims to briefly describe the important features and general characteristics of school education in the United States. It is important to note that, due to the highly decentralized nature of U.S. education, policies and practices can vary considerably from state to state and from school district to school district. This course paper cites national averages and general patterns of education practice.
    • The structure of the paper consists of 32 pages and includes the introduction, the body, conclusion and the list of references.
    • The United States has a highly decentralized system of education. The Tenth Amendment (1791) of the U.S. Constitution (1787) states: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. Therefore, the general authority to create and administer public schools is reserved for the states. There is no national school system nor are there national framework laws that prescribe curricula or control most other aspects of education. The federal government, although playing an important role in education, does not establish or license schools or govern educational institutions at any level.
    • The decentralized nature of U.S. education has its origins in the early history of the United States. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, what was to become the United States began as separate colonies established by settlers from several European countries. In the 13 British colonies that formed the original United States, the colonial governments or, in some colonies, local communities were responsible for education. It was customary for each locality to establish and support its own school(s). Each community educated its children according to its priorities, values and needs. This history helps explain why states and local governments continue to exercise a significant degree of authority over elementary and secondary education policy and administration. Individual postsecondary institutions have also traditionally enjoyed considerable independence since the founding of the country, and they continue to be highly autonomous to the present day.

1 School education system in the USA

1.1 History of the school education system in the USA

The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. The first tax-supported public school was in Dedham, Massachusetts, and was run by Rev. Ralph Wheelock. Cremin (1970) stresses that colonists tried at first to educate by the traditional English methods of family, church, community, and apprenticeship, with schools later becoming the key agent in socialization. At first, the rudiments of literacy and arithmetic were taught inside the family, assuming the parents had those skills. Literacy rates seem to have been much higher in New England, and much lower in the South. By the mid-19th century, the role of the schools had expanded to such an extent that many of the educational tasks traditionally handled by parents became the responsibility of the schools.

All the New England colonies required towns to set up schools, and many did so. In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made proper education compulsory; other New England colonies followed. Similar statutes were adopted in other colonies in the 1640s and 1650s. The schools were all male, with few facilities for girls. In the 18th century, common schools appeared; students of all ages were under the control of one teacher in one room. Although they were publicly supplied at the local (town) level, they were not free, and instead were supported by tuition or rate bills.

The larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school. The most famous was the Boston Latin School, which is still in operation as a public high school. Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut, was another. By the 1780s, most had been replaced by private academies. By the early 19th century New England operated a network of elite private high schools, now called prep schools typified by Phillips Andover Academy (1778), Phillips Exeter Academy (1781), and Deerfield Academy (1797). They became the major feeders for Ivy League colleges in the mid-19th century. They became coeducational in the 1970s, and remain highly prestigious in the 21st century.

The upper south, centered on the Chesapeake, created some basic schools early in the colonial period. In late 17th century Maryland, the Jesuits operated some schools. Generally the planter class hired tutors for the education of their children or sent them to private schools. During the colonial years, some sent their sons to England for schooling. In Virginia, rudimentary schooling for the poor and paupers was provided by the local parish. Most parents either home schooled their children using peripatetic tutors or sent them to small local private schools [1].

In the deep south (Georgia and South Carolina) schooling was carried on by private venture teachers and a hodgepodge of publicly funded projects. In the colony of Georgia at least ten grammar schools were in operation by 1770, many taught by ministers. The Bethesda Orphan House educated children. And dozens of private tutors and teachers advertized their service in newspapers. A study of women's signatures indicates a high degree of literacy in areas with schools. In South Carolina, scores of school projects were advertised in the South Carolina Gazette beginning in 1732. Though it is difficult to know how many ads yielded successful schools, many of the ventures advertized repeatedly over years, suggesting continuity.

After the American Revolution, Georgia and South Carolina funded public universities. In Georgia public county academies became more common, and after 1811 South Carolina opened free common schools for reading, writing and arithmetic. Southern states established public school systems under Reconstruction biracial governments. There were public schools for blacks, but nearly all were segregated and white legislators consistently underfunded black schools. High schools became available to whites (and some blacks) in the cities after 1900, but few rural Southerners of either race went beyond the 8th grade until after 1945.

In 1727 in New Orleans the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula founded the first continually operating school for girls, Ursuline Academy. The Academy graduated the first female pharmacist, and the first woman to contribute a book of literary merit. It contained the first convent. It was the first free school and first retreat center for ladies, and first classes for female African-American slaves, free women of color, and Native Americans. In the region, Ursuline provided the first center of social welfare in the Mississippi Valley, first boarding school in Louisiana and the first school of music in New Orleans. Tax-supported schooling for girls began as early as 1767 in New England. It was optional and some towns proved reluctant. Northampton, Massachusetts, for example, was a late adopter because it had many rich families who dominated the political and social structures and they did not want to pay taxes to aid poor families. Northampton assessed taxes on all households, rather than only on those with children, and used the funds to support a grammar school to prepare boys for college. Not until after 1800 did Northampton educate girls with public money. In contrast, the town of Sutton, Massachusetts, was diverse in terms of social leadership and religion at an early point in its history. Sutton paid for its schools by means of taxes on households with children only, thereby creating an active constituency in favor of universal education for both boys and girls.

Historians point out that reading and writing were different skills in the colonial era. School taught both, but in places without schools, writing was taught mainly to boys and a few privileged girls. Men handled worldly affairs and needed to both read and write. Girls only needed to read (especially religious materials). This educational disparity between reading and writing explains why the colonial women often could read, but could not write and could not sign their names--they used an X. There is little evidence of women teaching during the Spanish rule, although women taught each other within religious convents while also receiving instruction from priests.

New Netherland had already set up elementary schools in most of their towns by 1664 (when the colony was taken over by the English). The schools were closely related to the Dutch Reformed Church, and emphasized religious instruction and prayer. The coming of the English led to the closing of the Dutch language public schools, some of which were converted into private academies. The new English government showed little interest in public schools.

German settlements from New York through Pennsylvania, Maryland and down to the Carolinas sponsored elementary schools closely tied to their churches, with each denomination or sect sponsoring its own schools. By the middle of the 19th century, German Catholics and Missouri Synod Lutherans were setting up their own German-language parochial schools, especially in cities from Cincinnati to St. Louis to Chicago and Milwaukee, as well as rural areas heavily settled by Germans. All of the schools were small, with a limited undergraduate curriculum oriented on the liberal arts. Students were drilled in Greek, Latin, geometry, ancient history, logic, ethics and rhetoric, with few discussions, little homework and no lab sessions. The college president typically tried to enforce strict discipline, and the upperclassman enjoyed hazing the freshman. Many students were younger than 17, and most of the colleges also operated a preparatory school. There were no organized sports, or Greek-letter fraternities, but the literary societies were active. Tuition was very low and scholarships were few.

There were no schools of law in the colonies. However, a few lawyers studied at the highly prestigious Inns of Court in London, while the majority served apprenticeships with established American lawyers. Law was very well established in the colonies, compared to medicine, which was in rudimentary condition. In the 18th century, 117 Americans had graduated in medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, but most physicians learned as apprentices in the colonies. In Philadelphia, the Medical College of Philadelphia was founded in 1765, and became affiliated with the university in 1791. In New York, the medical department of King's College was established in 1767, and in 1770 awarded the first American M.D. degree.

After the Revolution, an emphasis was put on education, especially in the northern states, which rapidly established public schools. By the year 1870, all states had free elementary schools. The US population had one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in the towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s.

In 1821, Boston started the first public high school in the United States. By the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

Over the years, Americans have been influenced by a number of European reformers; among them Pestalozzi, Herbart, and Montessori.

The school system remained largely private and unorganized until the 1840s. Public schools were always under local control, with no federal role, and little state role. The 1840 census indicated that of the 3.68 million children between the ages of five and fifteen, about 55% attended primary schools and academies. Beginning in the late 1830s, more private academies were established for girls for education past primary school, especially in northern states. Some offered classical education similar to that offered to boys [2].

Data from the indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania from 1771-1817 showed that the number of children receiving education increased from 33.3% in 1771-1773 to 69% in 1787-1804. Additionally, the same data showed that the ratio of school education versus home education rose from 1.25 in 1771-1773 to 1.68 in 1787-1804. While some African Americans managed to achieve literacy, southern states prohibited schooling to enslaved blacks.

Teaching young students was not perceived as an end goal for educated people. Adults became teachers without any particular skill except sometimes in the topic they were teaching. The checking of credentials was left to the local school board, who were mainly interested in the efficient use of limited taxes. This started to change with the introduction of two-year normal schools starting in 1823. By the end of the 19th century, most teachers of elementary schools were trained in this fashion.

Most schooling was done in the 19th century by teaching students of various ages and abilities together using the Monitorial System, an education method that became popular on a global scale during the early 19th century. This method was also known as mutual instruction or the "Bell-Lancaster method" after the British educators Dr Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster who both independently developed it about 1798. The method was based on the abler pupils being used as 'helpers' to the teacher, passing on the information they had learned to other students.

Upon becoming the secretary of education in Massachusetts in 1837, Horace Mann (1796-1859) worked to create a statewide system of professional teachers, based on the Prussian model of common schools which referred to the belief that everyone was entitled to the same content in education. Mann's early efforts focused primarily on elementary education and on preparing teachers. The common-school movement quickly gained strength across the North. Connecticut adopted a similar system in 1849, and Massachusetts passed a compulsory attendance law in 1852.

One important technique Mann learned in Prussia and first introduced in Massachusetts in 1848 was age grading--students were assigned by age to different grades and progressed through them, regardless of differences of aptitude, together with the lecture method used in European universities, which treated students more as passive recipients of instruction than as active participants in instructing one another. Previously, schools had often been single groups of students with ages ranging from 6 to 14 years. With the introduction of age grading, multi-aged classrooms all but disappeared. Some students progressed with their grade and completed all courses the secondary school had to offer. These were graduated, and were awarded a certificate of completion. This was increasingly done at a ceremony imitating college graduation rituals.

Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation's unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially among fellow Whigs, for building public schools. Indeed, most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for normal schools to train professional teachers.

Free schooling was available through some of the elementary grades. Graduates of these schools could read and write, though not always with great precision. Mary Chesnut, a Southern diarist, mocks the North's system of free education in her journal entry of June 3, 1862, where she derides misspelled words from the captured letters of Union soldiers.

By 1900, 34 states had compulsory schooling laws, 4 of which were in the South. 30 states with compulsory schooling laws required attendance until age 14 (or higher). As a result, by 1910, 72 percent of American children attended school. Half the nation's children attended one-room schools. In 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school.

As the nation was majority Protestant in the 19th century, most states passed a constitutional amendment, called Blaine Amendments, forbidding tax money be used to fund parochial schools. There was anti-Catholic sentiment related to heavy immigration from Catholic Ireland after the 1840s, and a feeling that Catholic children should be educated in public schools to become American. By 1890 the Irish, who controlled the Church in the U.S., had built an extensive network of parishes and parish schools (parochial schools) across the urban Northeast and Midwest. The Irish and other Catholic ethnic groups looked to parochial schools not only to protect their religion, but to enhance their culture and language.

Catholics and German Lutherans, as well as Dutch Protestants, organized and funded their own elementary schools. Catholic communities also raised money to build colleges and seminaries to train teachers and religious leaders to head their churches.

Most Catholics were German or Irish immigrants or their children, until the 1890s when large numbers began arriving from Italy and Poland. The parochial schools met some opposition, as in the Bennett Law in Wisconsin in 1890, but they thrived and grew, in large part because of the very low salaries paid to the Catholic nuns who ran them (the nuns had taken a vow of poverty). In 1925 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that students could attend private schools to comply with state compulsory education laws, thus giving parochial schools an official blessing.

In the era of reconstruction, the Freedmen's Bureau opened 1000 schools across the South for black children. Schooling was a high priority for the Freedmen, and the enrollments were high and enthusiastic. Overall, the Bureau spent $5 million to set up schools for blacks. By the end of 1865, more than 90,000 Freedmen were enrolled as students in public schools. The school curriculum resembled that of schools in the north.

Colleges were also created, such as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1868 as well as numerous colleges sponsored by northern religious bodies [3].

Until recently historians believed that most Bureau teachers were well-educated Yankee women motivated by religion and abolitionism. New research has found that half the teachers were southern whites; one-third were blacks, and one-sixth were northern whites. Few were abolitionists; few came from New England. Most were women but black men slightly outnumbered black women. The salary was the strongest motivation except for the northerners, who were typically funded by northern organizations and had a humanitarian motivation. As a group, only the black cohort showed a commitment to racial equality; they were the ones most likely to remain teachers.

The progressive era in education was part of a larger Progressive Movement, and extended from the 1890s to the 1930s. The era was notable for a dramatic expansion in the number of schools and students served, especially in the fast-growing metropolitan cities. After 1910, smaller cities began building high schools. By 1940, 50% of young adults had earned a high school diploma.

The Coleman Report, by University of Chicago sociology professor James Coleman proved especially controversial in 1966. Based on massive statistical data, the 1966 report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity fueled debate about school effects that has continued since. The report was widely seen as evidence that school funding has little effect on student achievement. A more precise reading of the Coleman Report is that student background and socioeconomic status are much more important in determining educational outcomes than are measured differences in school resources (i.e. per pupil spending). Coleman found that, on average, black schools were funded on a nearly equal basis by the 1960s, and that black students benefited from racially mixed classrooms.

The comparative quality of education among rich and poor districts is still often the subject of dispute. While middle class African-American children have made good progress; poor minorities have struggled. With school systems based on property taxes, there are wide disparities in funding between wealthy suburbs or districts, and often poor, inner-city areas or small towns. De facto segregation has been difficult to overcome as residential neighborhoods have remained more segregated than workplaces or public facilities. Racial segregation has not been the only factor in inequities. Residents in New Hampshire challenged property tax funding because of steep contrasts between education funds in wealthy and poorer areas. They filed lawsuits to seek a system to provide more equal funding of school systems across the state.

In 1975 Congress passed Public Law 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children Act. One of the most comprehensive laws in the history of education in the United States, this Act brought together several pieces of state and federal legislation, making free, appropriate education available to all eligible students with a disability. The law was amended in 1986 to extend its coverage to include younger children. In 1990 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) extended its definitions and changed the label handicap to disabilities. Further procedural changes were amended to IDEA in 1997.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released a report titled A Nation at Risk. Soon afterward, conservatives were calling for an increase in academic rigor including an increase in the number of school days per year, longer school days and higher testing standards. In the latter half of the decade, E.D. Hirsch put forth an influential attack on one or more versions of progressive education, advocating an emphasis on cultural literacy - the facts, phrases, and texts that Hirsch asserted every American had once known and that now only some knew, but was still essential for decoding basic texts and maintaining communication. Hirsch's ideas remain significant through the 1990s and into the 21st century, and are incorporated into classroom practice through textbooks and curricula published under his own imprint.

No Child Left Behind, passed by a bipartisan coalition in Congress in 2002, marked a new direction. In exchange for more federal aid, the states were required to measure progress and punish schools that were not meeting the goals as measured by standardized state exams in math and language skills. By 2012, half the states were given waivers because the original goal that 100% students by 2014 be deemed "proficient" had proven unrealistic.

Start times for high schools have been delayed from the earliest of the three types of schools, to the latest. The intent was to better align the school's starting times with findings about adolescent sleep cycles, which biologically tend to be later than in other periods of life.

By 2012, 45 states had dropped the requirement to teach cursive writing from the curriculum. Few school start the school day by singing the national anthem, as was once done. Few schools have mandatory recess for children. Educators are trying to reinstate recess. Few schools have mandatory arts class. Continuing reports of a student's progress can be found online, supplementing the former method of periodic report cards [4].

1.2 The role of school education in the USA

The importance of education has been proven to be a prerequisite for the harmonious functioning of any society. Education provides us with knowledge about the world. It paves the way for a good career. It helps build character. It leads to enlightenment. It lays the foundation of a stronger nation. Education makes a man complete. Kautilya, an Indian philosopher, royal adviser, and professor of economics and political science very rightly underlined the importance of education, some 2000 years ago. He has highlighted the fact that education enriches people's understanding of themselves. He has said that education is an investment in human capital, and it can have a great impact on a nation's growth and development.

The first time we are introduced to formal education is in school. The school years are the grounding years of one's education. Schools are institutions that lay the foundation of a child's development. They play a key role in developing children into responsible citizens and good human beings. It's a school where young talent is recognized and nurtured. On leaving school, we are all set to soar high in life, and enter the real world in pursuit of our dreams [4].

So, why is school education so important? What is the purpose of schooling and teaching? Why do Americans have school in the first place?

Two primary opposing views exist regarding the purpose of schools. Some, such as the Business Roundtable (A. Ryan, 2004) and Achieve (Achieve, 2004), an organization created by governors and business leaders, believe that the primary purpose of schools should be to create workers who have skills and personal styles to fill and perform available jobs. Others believe this outcome is too narrow (Freeman, 2005; Goodlad, 1984; Hodgkinson, 2006; Postman, 1996). For them schools should seek to develop active citizens, helping children develop their own capacity for personal achievement and contributing to society as an active citizen for democracy.

These two goals, producing workers and creating citizens, require two very different approaches. If, on the one hand, the key goal is to educate students as workers, where education essentially functions as a section of the personnel department for business and industry, schools are expected to perform two essential tasks: (1) create a pool of workers with at least minimum competence and attitudes from which businesses can select employees; and (2) provide a way of sorting workers in rank order of ability, eliminating those from the pool who do not have the perceived capacity to function as employees. The goal for businesses, of course, is to have a large pool of potentially qualified candidates with requisite skills that far exceeds the availability of jobs. This allows the business to select the best candidate. The resulting competition for jobs allows them to keep wages lower, thus decreasing costs and increasing profits. This goal becomes evident through the call for standards with higher levels of skills. The need to have a way of ranking individuals in order of basic skills, or at least certifying minimum competency, is seen in the push for standardized testing that was incorporated into the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act passed in 2004. It is notable that the Business Roundtable and other business and industry groups were intimately involved in calling for identified minimum standards and the use of standardized testing.

Following are some key strategies that lead to schools accomplishing these personnel office functions in the societal service of business. They most often include:

* Identify basic skills that all students should achieve, skills needed in most jobs in business and industry;

* Use tests to rank students or, at minimum, identify students as competent or incompetent on basic skills;

* Increase the number of students meeting competence in basic skills;

* Assure that the curriculum focuses narrowly on the basic skills rather than curriculum options that address individual interests and needs;

* Facilitate conditions under which students with challenges drop out of the system to reduce costs.

The fact is, of course, few school districts actually state that their prime mission is to serve as a personnel department for business and industry. However, functionally many schools make this clear by engaging in practices designed to insure such outcomes. Similarly, policymakers often use language whereby an outcome is veiled by other language. If to look carefully at the list above, one will see a description of practices presently mandated by NCLB in the United States (Education, 2002) and laws in other countries as well. Some of these requirements, like the creation of standards and use of standardized tests are mandated in the legislation itself. Others, such as the increase in dropouts (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006; Woods, 1995) and racial segregation (Horn, 2006), are a result of a system that does not attend well to the personalized needs of students, particularly those with substantial life challenges (J. Ryan, 2004). Similarly, as schools are evaluated based on very narrow criteria (eg. tests of math, basic literacy skills, and science), the curriculum of many schools is narrowed, de-emphasizing social studies, the arts, physical education, and even, on occasion, eliminating recess for elementary children (Karp, Spring 2003; Marshak, November 2003; Mathis, 2006; McKenzie, November, 2006).

If, on the other hand, schools seek to help students achieve personal excellence and become effective citizens, their learning activities must be organized quite differently. In such schools, the curriculum would necessarily offer many rich opportunities rather than focusing only on narrow basic skills. Students are nurtured to become adults who have skills, attitudes, and knowledge to be productive community members, leaders, parents, as well as workers. Here's a short list that schools and teachers would be about in such schools:

* Help students identify their interests and abilities;

* Support students in setting personal learning goals;

* Facilitate student involvement and learning in decision-making regarding their own learning and the use of power and responsibility in the classroom and school;

* Create a culture of care and community where students learn to support one another and take responsibility for the well being of each other and the total community;

* Facilitate students learning together in a diverse groups where they learn how to value contributions of others and manage productive group work;

* Teach students who are functioning at many differing levels of ability together in heterogeneous mixes;

* Assess student skills and learning styles to facilitate learning and promote personal excellence.

One might ask, Can we not do both - educate for being a worker and for being a citizen? From one perspective, the answer is Yes! This is true because in working towards personal excellence and citizenship, children and youth also learn how to be effective workers and producers. However, it's also true that it is impossible to organize a school and classroom around the strategies for each approach at the same time. It is impossible, for example, focus most of curriculum around basic skills in three subjects and give students opportunities for personal excellence and learning skills of citizenship. The problem, of course, is that in the present political environment, schools don't have much choice in participating in some of the strategies aimed towards education of workers as the goal of schooling. By law, schools must develop standards and have their students take standardized tests. The good news, however, is that there is substantial evidence that test scores in schools aiming for personal excellence and citizenship are equal to or higher than schools that focus on narrow curriculum only.

The fact is that most parents and educators, when clearly asked, do not want education for work as the prime outcome of schooling. They want much more. Educators and parents often attend workshops in which they are asked to describe what has made the best year and the worst year for children. Always, teachers and parents state that what made the difference lay more in how the student was treated and positive or negative relationships rather than how well they did on particular tests. In other words, in addition to cognitive learning of basic skills and even critical thinking skills, the emotional and social well-being of the child is paramount. Helping children develop in these arenas is a key expectation and goal for most people. Following, for example, are some examples of mission statements of public schools:

* Neshaminy is dedicated to empowering students to become accountable, creative, self-aware, and productive citizens who utilize the knowledge, the skills, the social consciousness and the desire for continuous learning (Neshaminy School District, Pennsylvania).

* Elk Grove Unified School District will provide a learning community that challenges ALL students to realize their greatest potential. Outcomes for students; achievement of core academic skills; confident, effective thinkers and problem solvers, ethical participants in society (Elk Grove Unified School District, Elk Grove, California).

* The Board of Directors believes that students should complete school in full possession of skills, knowledge, and insights necessary for responsible, productive participation in society (Searcy Public School, Searcy, Arkansas)

* To provide a wide array of instructional programs that assure core competencies and nurture the unique talents of the individual and that are regularly revised to meet current needs and anticipate challenges; to provide and regularly review a wide and relevant array of extracurricular and co-curricular activities at all levels that foster lifelong learning by nurturing the unique talents of each individual and promoting social responsibility (Hopewell Valley Regional School District, Pennington, New Jersey)

* The Boerne Independent School District exists to prepare its students for responsible citizenship, sound character, lifelong learning, and productive employment through programs and activities which challenge and develop language literacy, mathematical proficiency, scientific competence, and social maturity (Boerne Independent School District, Boerne, Texas) [5].

Thus, to sum it up, the role of an American school may be described as follows:

* It gives knowledge;

* It leads to career progression;

* It builds character;

* It leads to enlightenment;

* It helps a nation progress.

Schools define the basic framework of education. But education is a lifelong process. This is well-supported by a speech made by US President Barack Obama. In his national address to students across the nation, he said: ... Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide [5].

Thus, most histories of education deal with institutions or focus on the ideas histories of major reformers, but a new social history has recently emerged, focused on who were the students in terms of social background and social mobility. Attention has often focused on minority and ethnic students. The social history of teachers has also been studied in depth.

Historians have recently looked at the relationship between schooling and urban growth by studying educational institutions as agents in class formation, relating urban schooling to changes in the shape of cities, linking urbanization with social reform movements, and examining the material conditions affecting child life and the relationship between schools and other agencies that socialize the young.

2 The organization of educational process in American schools

2.1 Types of schools

Education is compulsory over an age range starting between five and eight and ending somewhere between ages sixteen and eighteen, depending on the state. This requirement can be satisfied in public schools, state-certified private schools, or an approved home school program. Public school systems are supported by a combination of local, state, and federal government funding. Because a large portion of school revenues come from local property taxes, public schools vary widely in the resources they have available per student. Class size also varies from one district to another. Curriculum decisions in public schools are made largely at the local and state levels; the federal government has limited influence. In most districts, a locally elected school board runs schools. The school board appoints an official called the superintendent of schools to manage the schools in the district.

Admission to individual public schools is usually based on residency. To compensate for differences in school quality based on geography, school systems serving large cities and portions of large cities often have magnet schools that provide enrollment to a specified number of non-resident students in addition to serving all resident students. This special enrollment is usually decided by lottery with equal numbers of males and females chosen. Some magnet schools cater to gifted students or to students with special interests, such as the sciences or performing arts.

Private schools in the United States include parochial schools (affiliated with religious denominations), non-profit independent schools, and for-profit private schools. Private schools charge varying rates depending on geographic location, the school's expenses, and the availability of funding from sources, other than tuition. For example, some churches partially subsidize private schools for their members. Some people have argued that when their child attends a private school, they should be able to take the funds that the public school no longer needs and apply that money towards private school tuition in the form of vouchers. This is the basis of the school choice movement.

Private schools have various missions: some cater to college-bound students seeking a competitive edge in the college admissions process; others are for gifted students, students with learning disabilities or other special needs, or students with specific religious affiliations. Some cater to families seeking a small school, with a nurturing, supportive environment. Unlike public school systems, private schools have no legal obligation to accept any interested student. Admission to some private schools is often highly selective. Private schools also have the ability to permanently expel persistently unruly students, a disciplinary option not legally available to public school systems.

Private schools offer the advantages of smaller classes, under twenty students in a typical elementary classroom, for example; a higher teacher/student ratio across the school day, greater individualized attention and in the more competitive schools, expert college placement services. Unless specifically designed to do so, private schools usually cannot offer the services required by students with serious or multiple learning, emotional, or behavioral issues. Although reputed to pay lower salaries than public school systems, private schools often attract teachers by offering high-quality professional development opportunities, including tuition grants for advanced degrees. According to elite private schools themselves, this investment in faculty development helps maintain the high quality program that they offer [6].

2.2 Levels of school education

The education system in the USA is divided into three levels: elementary school, middle or junior high school, and high school (Fig.1.). Ordinal numbers (e.g., first grade) are used for identifying grades (Fig. 2). US educators frequently use the terms K-12 education, and sometimes PK-12 education, to refer to all primary and secondary education from pre-school prior to the first year or grade through secondary graduation. The following describes the structure of the U.S. education system, indicating the most typical educational paths taken from preschool through graduate school. For early childhood education, the stages shown are the following [1]:

Nursery School (ages 3-4) - 1-2 years duration

Kindergartens (ages 4-5) - 1-2 years duration

For elementary and secondary education (grades 1 through 12), there are four traditional paths. The path taken by a given individual will depend on the state, school district, or school in which that individual is studying. The stage variations are the following:

Variation 1

Elementary (or Primary) School (ages 6-13) - 8 years duration

4-Year High School (ages 14-18) - 4 years duration

Variation 2

Elementary (or Primary) School (ages 6-9) - 4 years duration

Middle School (ages 10-13) - 4 years duration

4-Year High School (ages 14-18) - 4 years duration

Variation 3

Elementary (or Primary) School (ages 6-11) - 5 years duration

Junior High School (12-14) - 3 years duration

Senior High School (15-18) - 3 years duration

Variation 4

Elementary (or Primary) School (ages 6-11) - 6 years duration

Combined Junior/Senior School (ages 12-18) - 6 years duration.

Early childhood education (preprimary) in the United States comes in a variety of forms, including nursery school, preschool, day care centers, prekindergarten and kindergarten. It also includes Head Start, a federally funded child development program that serves low-income children. Free Head Start programs are offered for 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families. Overall, 64 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood education and 52 percent of these children attend full-day programs [7].

The majority of 5-year-olds attend free public kindergartens. Most public elementary schools offer free kindergarten education, and the average class size is 20 students. Almost all public school kindergartens report that teachers read stories aloud to the children each day. The majority also arrange for the students to engage each day in running, climbing and other motor skill activities; language development, dramatic play, arts, crafts and music; and free play. About half of the kindergarten teachers engage children daily in using objects to learn about math and science.

The elementary school in the United States includes the first six or eight grades of the common-school system, depending upon the organization that has been accepted for the secondary school. It has been called the grade school or the grammar school. Students enter the first grade at the age of six and attendance is compulsory in most states until the age of sixteen or until the student has finished the eighth grade.

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

Students often remain in one classroom throughout the school day, except for physical education, library, music, and art classes.

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.

The length of the school year varies among the states. In most states, the school year lasts 180 days. School begins in most districts in late August or early September and continues until June, and most school districts have a two-week break at the end of December and a one-week break in March or April.

Wide variation exists also in the length of the school day. A common practice is to have school in session from 9:00 to 12:00 in the morning and from 1:00 to 3:30 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. The school day for the lower grades is often from 30 minutes to an hour shorter. Most schools require some homework to be done by elementary pupils.

There are eight years of elementary schooling. The elementary school is followed by four years of secondary school, or high school. Often the last two years of elementary and the first years of secondary school are combined into a junior high school.

Secondary education usually covers grades 6 through 9 or 10 through 12.

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, eighth, and ninth grades. 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.

Picture 2.1 - Diagram of education in the United States

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).

Generally, at the high school level, students take a broad variety of classes without special emphasis in any particular subject. 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 [7].

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, and trigonometry, and frequently pre-calculus, statistics, and/or 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 one year).

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.

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 [8].

Students may also study from a wide range of electives.

2.3 School facilities and classrooms

An effective school facility is responsive to the changing programs of educational delivery, and at a minimum should provide a physical environment that is comfortable, safe, secure, accessible, well illuminated, well ventilated, and aesthetically pleasing. The school facility consists of not only the physical structure and the variety of building systems, such as mechanical, plumbing, electrical and power, telecommunications, security, and fire suppression systems. The facility also includes furnishings, materials and supplies, equipment and information technology, as well as various aspects of the building grounds, namely, athletic fields, playgrounds, areas for outdoor learning, and vehicular access and parking [9].

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