Education in the USA
General Pattern of Education in the USA
The general pattern of education in the USA is an eight-year elementary
school, followed by a four-year high school. This has been called 8—4 plan
organization. It is proceeded, in many localities, by nursery schools and
kindergartens. It is followed by a four-year college and professional
schools. This traditional pattern, however, has been varied in many
different ways. The 6—3— 3 plan consists of a six-year elementary school, a
three-year junior high school, and a three-year senior high school. Another
variation is a 6—6 plan organization, with a six-year elementary school
followed by a six-year secondary school.
American education provides a program for children, beginning at the
age of 6 and continuing up to the age of 16 in some of the states, and to
18 in others.
The elementary school in the United States is generally considered to
include 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".
There is no single governmental agency to prescribe for the
American school system, different types of organization and of curriculum
are tried out.
The length of the school year varies among the states. 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. Elementary Schools, High
Schools and Institutions of Higher Learning
Elementary Schools, High Schools and Institutions of Higher Learning
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.
The school year is nine months in length, beginning early in September
and sometimes a shorter one in spring. There are slight variations from
place to place. 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.
The elementary schools tend to be small. The high schools are generally
larger and accommodate pupils from four or five elementary schools. A small
town generally has several elementary schools and one high school. In some
rural communities the one-room country school house still exists. Here may
be found from five to twenty-five pupils in grades one through eight, all
taught by the same teacher.
Admission to the American high school is automatic on completion of the
elementary school. During the four-year high school program the student
studies four or five major subjects per year, and classes in each of these
subjects meet for an hour a day, five days a week. In addition, the student
usually has classes in physical education, music, and art several times a
week. If he fails a course, he repeats only that course and not the work of
the entire year. Students must complete a certain number of courses in
order to receive a diploma, or a certificate of graduation.
Institutions of higher learning supported by public funds are not
absolutely free. The state colleges and universities charge a fee for
tuition or registration. This fee is higher for those who come from outside
the state. Working one's way through college is commonplace.
Usually there is no admission examination required by a state
university for those who have finished high school within the state.
Sometimes a certain pattern of high school studies is necessary, however,
and some state universities require a certain scholastic average, or
average of high school grades.
Private colleges and universities, especially the larger, well-known
ones such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, have rigid scholastic
requirements for entrance, including an examination.
It usually takes four years to meet the requirements for a Bachelor of
Arts or Bachelor of Science degree.A Master of Arts or Master of Science
degree may be obtained in one or two additional years.The highest academic
degree is the Doctor of Philosophy.It may take any number of years to
complete the original research work necessary to obtain this degree.
Higher Education Institutions
It has become common for the college program to be divided into broad
fields,such as languages and literature,the social sciences,the sciences
and mathematics, and the fine arts.Many colleges require all freshmen and
sophomores to take one or two full-year courses in each of three
fields.Certain Courses,such as English or history,may be required for
all,with some election permitted in the other fields.
Higher educational institutions usually are governed by a board of
regents or a board of trustees.
The executive head of a college or a university is usually called the
president. The various colleges or schools which take up a university are
headed by deans. Within a school or college there may be departments
according to subject matter fields, each of which may be headed by a
professor who is designated as department head or chairman. Other members
of the faculty hold academic ranks, such as instructor, assistant
professor, associate professor, and professor. Graduate students who give
some part-time service may be designated as graduate assistants or fellows.
Professional education in fields such as agriculture, dentistry, law,
engineering, medicine, pharmacy, teaching, etc. is pursued in professional
schools which may be part of a university or may be separate institutions
which confine their instruction to a single profession. Often two, three,
or four years of pre-professional liberal arts education are required
before admission to a professional school. Three to five years of
specialized training lead to professional degrees such as Doctor of
Medicine, Bachelor of Law, etc.
Private and State Colleges and Universities
Harvard College was established in 1636, with the principal purpose of
providing a literate ministry1 for colonial churches. It was a small
institution, enrolling only 20 students in 1642 and 60 in 1660. It soon
became more than a theological training school2 and established itself as a
liberal arts college. The next institution of higher learning established
in the American colonies was the College of William and Mary, which opened
in 1693 at Williamsburg, Virginia. Other colleges were founded in the next
century, but all of them remained small schools for long periods. Students
entered at the age of 14 and remained until they were 18, and the
curriculum, while rigidly academic and classic was by modern standards
rather secondary in nature.
Private colleges and universities were established in various states.
The first state university was the University of Virginia, founded in 1819.
Some state universities have large endowment funds1 which provide a
substantial portion of their support. Other sources of income are student
fees, gifts and endowments.
In general, higher education in the USA may be divided into two broad
fields: liberal arts and professional. Each of these fields may be further
subdivided into undergraduate and graduate levels. The liberal arts
program, on the undergraduate level, may be a two-year junior college
course, or a four-year course leading to a degree of Bachelor of Arts or
Bachelor of Science. The four-year course is usually subdivided into a
lower division (which may be called the junior college), consisting of the
two first years, and the upper division, which is the last two years. The
first two years continue the general education and specialization begins in
the third year.
Teaching Profession in the USA
Requirements for teachers' certificate vary among 50 states. Usually
the state department of education, or a state certification board, issues
certificates which permit teachers to be employed within the state. Forty-
four of the 50 states require at least the completion of a four-year
course, with the bachelor's degree, as a minimum for high school teaching:
the tendency to require a fifth year beyond the bachelor's degree is
increasing. Graduation from a two-year normal school or at least two years
of college education is the minimum requirement for elementary teaching in
36 states; others demand the completion of a four-year course and the
Because of the decentralization of school control in the USA teachers
are employed by local districts rather than by the national government. The
American teacher does not have the absolute security of tenure which the
French or Australian teacher enjoys. A higher proportion of the teaching
force are women than in some other countries.
The teacher-training institutions have not been able to provide
sufficient numbers of fully trained teachers to replace those retiring and
dropping out of the profession and at the same time to meet the
requirements for new classes each year. The problem of recruiting and suply
of teachers remains a serious one. In general the problem of shortage of
teachers has not been met by lowering certification standards.