Americans have shown a great concern for education since early colonial times. Today, there are some 43 million pupils and students in public schools at the elementary and secondary levels, and another 6 million in private schools throughout the country.
The USA does not have a national system of education. The function of the Federal Department of Education is merely to gather information, to advise and help finance some educational programs. All educational matters are left to individual states. 50 states are free to determine its own system for its own public school. In 1986 50 percent of the funds for elementary and secondary education came from state sources, 43 from local funds, and only 6 % from the federal government.
There are two major types of schools in the USA – public and private, or fee-paying. Four out of five private schools are run by churches, synagogues and other religious groups.
Most schools start at nursery level at the age of 3. Elementary education starts at the age of 6 and continues till 10-11 years. Secondary education is provided from the age of 11-12 years. Intermediate school includes grades 6 through 9 for ages 11 up to 14 years. Schools of this stage are called intermediate schools or junior high schools.
A senior high school may include grades 9 through 12 or 10 through 12. Senior high schools in the United States can be classified in 3 major categories according to program. A senior high school may be comprehensive, generator vocational. A comprehensive school is open to all youths of a community area and offers a broad program of academic, prevocational and vocational education.
A general school is also open, but it offers a more limited program. Extensive program of prevocational or vocational courses and advanced courses in academic studies are usually excluded.
A vocational school is for students of the community who are interested in its specialized area of training and a program of general education.
A specialized school is for pupils with special capabilities who are qualified to concentrate in a particular area of study. It is for the academically, musically, artistically gifted.
The American secondary school provides the course program of school subjects and a program of extracurricular activities, including organized sports, Most schools publish their own student newspapers, have orchestras, bands, choir, theatre and drama groups, etc.
What makes American education at the secondary level so different from most other countries is that all such programs, whether academic, technical, or practical, are generally taught under one roof.
High school students who wish to attend a college or university go through one of the two standard tests – SAT and ACT. They are given by non-profit, non-governmental organizations.