Education Systems in North America Part I: United States

In the United States, education is compulsory and universally available. Due to the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government does not have the right to establish a national education system and thus the states determine school policies or curriculum. Even though school policy is left up to the discretion of the states, the overall education system is extremely similar from state to state.

The compulsory school attendance laws declare that students must begin attending school between the ages of 5-8 (depending on the state) and must continue through the ages of 15-18 (depending on the state). Public and private schools are organized into three levels, elementary (primary) school, middle (junior high) school, and high (secondary) school. Within these levels, students are divided by age groups and proficiency into grades. There are twelve grades in the U.S. education system ranging from first grade to twelfth grade, the final year of high school.

While grading scales do vary from school to school, the majority of schools use a 100-point scale as follows:

Letter Grade

Number Grade

Grade Point Average (GPA)

A+

100-97

4.00

A

96-93

4.00

A-

92-90

3.67

B+

89-87

3.33

B

86-83

3.00

B-

82-80

2.67

C+

79-77

2.33

C

76-73

2.00

C-

72-70

1.67

D+

69-67

1.33

D

66-63

1.00

D-

62-60

0.67

F

59-0

0.00

As previously stated, there is no national curriculum. There are, however, certain areas of study that each state’s secondary education curriculum includes. These are English, science, U.S. history, physical education, foreign languages, geography, art, music, and health. Many post-secondary institutions also require that students take a certain number of credits in the above-mentioned areas of study to meet their admissions standards.

There are currently thousands of degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the U.S. These include universities, four-year colleges, and two-year colleges. Funding for private, public, or religiously affiliated institutions is provided by State or Federal governments, student tuition and fees, donations, or endowment earnings. The amount of funds schools receives from State and Federal governments varies greatly depending on the kind of institution they are.

Credentials in the United States are usually first earned following the completion of high school, though some elementary and middle schools also award graduation certificates. The High School Diploma is what is generally awarded at the completion of high school. For post-secondary institutions there are many different credentials that are awarded. The most common are the Associate of Arts (two-year degree), Associate of Science (two-year degree), and the Bachelor of Arts (four-year degree).