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2.5.2 System of Education

In the American educational system children are generally required to attend school from the age of five or six until age 16, although most continue until they are at least 17 or 18, or have graduated from high school. The public education systems vary from one state to another but generally are organized as follows:

  • Age 5: Kindergarten

  • Ages 6-11: Elementary school. Grades 1 to 5 or 6.

• Ages 12-13 or 12-14: Junior high school or middle school (usually grades 7-9 or grades 6-8, respectively).

• Ages 14-18: High school.

Additionally, many children attend schools before they reach the age of five. These pre-schools are often private and not part of the public educational system although some public school systems include pre-schools.

Public education in the United States is provided by the separate states, not the federal government. It is free, but unlike many other countries, the US has no standard nationwide curriculum. Rather it is up to the teachers and admin­istrators of the school districts to determine what is and is not taught, although increasingly, statewide curricula are being developed. Also, as of 2003 there is in­creasing state and federal pressure to use standardized tests, which lead to a more uniform curriculum.

Most of the private institutions have traditionally been religious institutions, such as Catholic schools, various Protestant schools and Jewish yeshivas. Some private secular schools, military schools and multi-lingual schools are available. Private secular and multi-lingual elementary and secondary education may cost $10,000 to $20,000 per year per student in large metropolitan areas, placing these schools out of reach of all but the most wealthy of middle and upper class families. However, many of these schools provide academic scholarships and need-based as­sistance. Religious schools vary in price, from nearly free, to costs on par with pri­vate secular schools. Poorer families may send their children to these lower priced schools for a religious education, or because they consider the schools better than the available public schools. Home schooling is allowed in many states and is an alternative for a small minority of households. The motivation for home schooling is often, but not always, religious.

The United States is a great centre of higher education, boasting more than 1,500 universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning.

As with the lower level public education system, there is no national public university system in the United States. Each state has its own public university system. There are also many privately run colleges, universities, and trade schools, some of them religiously affiliated. State university tuition ranges from nearly free on up, but is generally significantly lower than at private schools, and often lower for state residents than for out-of-state students.


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The most famous universites are the eight Ivy League Univers­ities, which include Harvard and Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California.

The Ivy League logo left

The Ivy League Universities are named after the ivy plants traditionally cover­ing their older buildings. The term "Ivy League" has connotations of academic excel­lence as well as a certain amount of elitism. A great deal of searching on the internet failed to find the number of Nobel laureates associated with these universities, but there is a vast amount of information on their endowments and how rich they are.