American education remains today what it was in the earliest days of the Republic: the anvil upon which the national culture is created and adapted to changing needs. Its goal is universal education from kindergarten to university.
All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost.
Education in the United States comprises three basic levels: elementary, secondary and higher education. Parents may choose whether to send their children to their local free public schools, or to private schools which charge fees. The organization and curricula of private schools and colleges are similar to those of public schools although the administration differs.
The vast majority of students at the primary and secondary levels go to public schools. Most of those who attend private schools attend church sponsored parochial schools.
The school year is usually nine months long, from early September to mid-June. The common pattern of organization, referred to as the 6-3-3 plan, includes elementary school in grades 1 through 6, junior high school in grades 7 through 9 and senior high school in grades 10 through 12. However, many variations on the pattern exist in the USA.
The main purpose of elementary school is the general intellectual and social development of the child from 6 to 12 or 15 years of age.
In secondary schools most pupils follow a course that includes English, science, social studies, mathematics and physical education. Elective subjects may be chosen in the fields of foreign languages, fine arts and vocational training. Pupils usually elect about half their work in grades nine through twelve.
The vocational program may give training in four fields: agricultural education, business education, home economics and trade and industrial education. This program prepares students either for employment or further training.
Most young Americans graduate from school with a high school diploma upon satisfactory completion of a specified number of courses. Students are usually graded from A (excellent) to F (failing) in each course they take on the basis of performance in tests given at intervals throughout the year.
Students receive "report cards" at least twice a year which indicate the grades they have received in each of the subjects. High schools maintain a school "transcript" which summarizes the courses taken and the grades obtained for each student.
Usually, the pupil has one teacher for all major subjects during his or her first six years of schooling. For the last six grades, however, they have a separate teacher for each discipline.
The US is committed to providing every youngster with a good, solid education, regardless of the economic background or even the inherent ability of the youngster.
In May 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education stirred considerable concern when it reported that the US was "at risk" from the "rising tide of mediocrity". It judged that standards were too low, the school day too short, teachers paid too little, and education was too far down on the list of national priorities. Among the Commission's recommendations were calls for higher standards, more time to be devoted to basic academic subjects and attracting a higher calibre of individual to the teaching profession. Besides, it was necessary to strengthen the bonds between federal, state and local authorities aimed at raising student achievements at all levels.
The American people have accepted the view that the quality of education is directly related to the quality of life. It is part of the American tradition to presume that they can improve.