Elevating the Standards for a brighter future

State governments set overall educational standards, often mandate standardized tests for K–12 public school systems, and supervise, usually through a board of regents, state colleges and universities. Funding comes from the state, local, and federal government.

Private schools are generally free to determine their own curriculum and staffing policies, with voluntary accreditation available through independent regional accreditation authorities. About 87% of school-age children attend public schools, about 10% attend private schools, and roughly 3% are home-schooled.

Education is compulsory over an age range starting between five and eight and ending somewhere between ages sixteen and eighteen, depending on the state. This requirement can be satisfied in public schools, state-certified private schools, or an approved home school program. In most schools, education is divided into three levels: elementary school, middle or junior high school, and high school. Children are usually divided by age groups into grades, ranging from kindergarten and first grade for the youngest children, up to twelfth grade as the final year of high school.

There are also a large number and wide variety of publicly and privately administered institutions of higher education throughout the country. Post-secondary education, divided into college, as the first tertiary degree, and graduate school, is described in a separate section below.

The United States spends more per student on education than any other country. In 2014, the Pearson/Economist Intelligence Unit rated US education as 14th best in the world, just behind Russia. In 2015 the Programme for International Student Assessment rated U.S. high school students #40 globally in Math and #24 in Science and Reading. The President of the National Center on Education and the Economy said of the results “the United States cannot long operate a world-class economy if our workers are, as the OECD statistics show, among the worst-educated in the world.” U.S. Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. acknowledged the results in conceding U.S. students were well behind their peers. According to a report published by the U.S. News & World Report, of the top ten colleges and universities in the world, eight are American. (The other two are Oxford and Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.)


The 2002 No Child Left Behind, passed by a bipartisan coalition in Congress provided federal aid to the states in exchange for measures to penalize schools that were not meeting the goals as measured by standardized state exams in mathematics and language skills. In the same year, the U.S. Supreme Court diluted some of the century-old “Blaine” laws upheld an Ohio law allowing aid to parochial schools under specific circumstances. The 2006 Commission on the Future of Higher Education evaluated higher education.

In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed legislation replacing No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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