Education is not mentioned in the Constitution, nor is there any federal department of education, so the matter is left to individual States. Education is free and compulsory in all States, however, from the age of 6 till 16 or 18. So, most American children go to State schools. In the USA these are called public schools. There are also some private schools, which are usually supported by religious organizations.
At 6 years of age children begin the first year of elementary school, which is called “Grade 1” or “First Grade” (the second year is “Grade 2”, etc.). At elementary school the emphasis is placed on the basic skills – speaking, reading, writing and arithmetic, though the general principle throughout the American school system is that children should be helped and encouraged to develop their own particular interests.
Children move on to high school in the seventh grade, where they continue until the twelfth grade. There are two basic types of high school: one with a more academic curriculum, preparing students for admission to college, and the other offering primarily vocational education (training in a skill or trade). The local school board decides which courses are compulsory. There is great freedom of choice, however, and an important figure in high schools is the guidance counselor, who advises the students on what courses to take on the basis of their career choices.
There are no national exams, although some schools and States have their own exams. Generally examination is given by continuous assessment, which means that teachers assess children throughout the year on how well they do in tests, classroom discussions and written and oral work.
In order to receive the high school diploma necessary in most States to get into college, students must accumulate a minimum number of credits, which are awarded for the successful completion of each one – or half-year course. Students hoping
to be admitted to the more famous universities require far more than the minimum number of credits and must also have good grades (the mark given on the basis of a course work and a written examination). Some colleges and universities require the students to take the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test).
Extra-curricular activity (such as playing for one of the school’s sports teams) is also very important in the American school system and is taken into consideration by colleges and employers.
PUBLIC EDUCATION: HISTORICAL REVIEW
The history of education in the United States has certain peculiarities which are closely connected with the specific conditions of life in the New World and the history of the American society.
The early Colonies and different politics of education for the first white settlers who came to North America from Europe in the 17th century brought with them the educational ideas of the time most typical of the countries they represented. In Virginia and South Carolina, for example, education was entirely private. The children of the rich either had tutors or were sent to Europe for schooling. Many of the children of poor parents had no education at all. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York many of the schools were set up and controlled by the church.