United States Education

United States Education


The United States is a world leader in post-secondary education and research. In 2010, just over 41% of the US population aged 25-64 had some form of post-secondary education (in Sweden 33%).

However, basic education is not as prominent. In international statistics, literacy is stated to be 100%, but the task is misleading. Recent reports from the states show major shortcomings in both mathematics and literacy. In a 2010 PISA study involving 15-year-old students from more than 70 countries, the United States ranked 14th in literacy and 25th in math.

United States Schooling

The US school and higher education system is characterized by having originated in an immigration country, and it thus differs in important respects from the corresponding European, mainly from a historical perspective. Elementary schools were set up, funded and governed locally, while in Europe they came through central decisions. In the mid-1800s, the educator Horace Mann (1796–1859) organized a “school for all” in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s that formed a model for the entire United States. The US Constitution places the responsibility for education entirely on the states, which has meant a great deal of variation in resources and achieved levels of knowledge and skills. A secondary school, high school, came into being in the latter part of the 19th century, also through local initiatives. Thus, already a general school took care of all the children in a catchment area, which came to be regarded as a backbone of American democracy. This was in contrast to the conditions in Europe, where the secondary school, the high school, was far from an elite school with medieval traditions. There has never been such a parallel school system in the United States.

Basic education

The compulsory basic education is a matter for the states and, above all, for the elected boards of the 14,000 local school districts. However, this long-running decentralization has proven to bring great inertia when it comes to working for a general increase in the level of knowledge throughout the country. It also means that a school board’s budget largely reflects the area’s financial status. In practice, there are also differences between different states in the scope of compulsory schooling, in rules for private schools’ activities and not least in terms of knowledge objectives.

The compulsory schooling begins with elementary school, which for most children starts with kindergarten aged 5-6 and continues with five grades. This is followed by three middle school courses (junior high school), after which the school is completed with four high school courses. Some states allow students to quit, with parental consent, before high school is over. In 2011, 90% of pupils attended compulsory schooling in public, duty-free schools and just over 8% in private schools, while 1.5–2% of children were taught by parents at home. In many cases, private schools are run by the Catholic Church.

The public school has been decisive for the assimilation of immigrants, formerly mainly those from Europe, and later those from Asia and Latin America. During the 20th century, and especially after World War II, a large proportion of African Americans moved from the southern states to primarily the industrial cities in the north. It created ghetto educations that led to problems in the school system with underprivileged students. A large immigration of Latinos, ie. Spanish speakers from Mexico and the islands in the Caribbean, in particular, have in recent decades created a new large minority, mainly in the states farthest south and in the largest cities in the east. This is clearly reflected in the resources and results of the education. The percentage of students who did not finish high school in 2009 was among Latinos 20.8%, African Americans 11.6% and Whites 9.4%.The dropout rate is higher among men than among women.

The mass education in high school and the difficulties in recruiting competent teachers to the compulsory school, mainly in nature-oriented subjects, already led to harsh criticism from university teams in the mid-1900s. The Soviet launch of Sputni in 1957 triggered strong reactions and demands for a better standard of education. After 1980 the comparisons became applicable to Japan, whose students showed superiority in mathematics and the natural sciences. A radical improvement in basic education became a federal concern under the leadership of various presidents in the 1980s and 1990s. Among other things, In 1994, Congress passed a law that established that the United States of 2000 would have achieved world-class mathematics and science.

A large school policy program, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2001. This has to some extent contributed to improved mathematics skills, while the general level of reading comprehension has not improved. However, the program – through strict requirements for performance reporting and follow-up, linked to federal grants – has helped to keep an up-to-date image of students’ knowledge throughout the United States, primarily in terms of reading and counting, by state, age, gender, ethnic affiliation, income group and disability.

The differences in the general level of knowledge between different states are still very large. The largest proportion with good literacy and numeracy ability was in 2005 in states in the north and northeast. The largest proportion with inferior ability (about half of all students) was found in states in the South, including California, and in Washington DC. African Americans and Latinos are still far behind students of European and Asian descent. Transferred to everyday life, according to the Ministry of Education in 2009, means that more than 30 million adult Americans are unable to read and understand simple newspaper text and simple instructions for use. The situation is exacerbated by the increased demand for reading ability in the labor market.

Higher education

In 2009, 70% of those who graduated from high school went on to higher studies. Post-secondary education is given at the college (equivalent to the Swedish university) and the university. In the fall of 2010, 20.3 million students were enrolled at universities and colleges in the United States, of which 14.6 million were full-time students. Nearly 725,000 came from other countries, of which 158,000 came from China. During the academic year 2007–08, 260,000 Americans studied at foreign universities and colleges, of which just over half in Europe.

There are several different types of college. Colleges with two-year programs are usually Community Colleges where studies lead to associate’s degree. Colleges with four-year programs lead to a bachelor’s degree (such as Bachelor of Arts, BA, and Bachelor of Science, B.Sc.), which is the academic undergraduate degree in the United States. Several such colleges, including with a focus on the humanities and social sciences (liberal arts colleges) are known for high quality teaching. Those who study to get a BA or B.Sc. are called undergraduates, and such education is also provided at the universities. More than a quarter of college-level students study at a private university. A 2006 study found that close to 20% of the adult population had enrolled in college but had not graduated.

Continuing studies, then in the vast majority of cases at a university, after 1-2 years lead to a master’s degree (eg Master of Arts, MA, or Master of Science, M.Sc.), or also, normally after four years of study, for a Ph.D., Ph.D. The students at that level are called graduates. Many universities also have academic vocational training in special schools (medical schools, business schools, law schools, veterinary schools etc.). School is then a term that can be equated with the faculty in Sweden. The term college, when it occurs in a university, usually has a similar meaning.

The federal state itself does not conduct higher education except at defense colleges (eg West Point) and the like. There is also no overall common regulatory framework for universities and colleges. Quality is considered to be ensured through competition between the university institutions, and an important role in this context plays ranking lists, based on research successes, publication profile and publication scope, library quality, teacher staff qualifications and exams. Low-ranking HEIs are not considered to be accredited.

The federal state can provide grants and scholarships to students as well as support for specific research programs, but during the 1990s, it accounted for a maximum of one-tenth of all the costs of higher education. Half of all funds came from the states, while the remainder consisted of returns from donations and, not least, the students’ tuition fees. A majority of universities are state-owned and each state has at least one such university, usually with the state’s name. The major states have gathered “their” universities in so-called university systems. California has three of these, of which the best known is the University of Californiawhich has aggregate operations (campus) in about ten locations, primarily in San Francisco (Berkeley) and Los Angeles (UCLA). State universities are partially tax-financed and therefore the tuition fee is usually lower for state residents than for prospective students. The universities have become increasingly dependent on external support, which is evident in the operations of medical schools. The vast majority of states have student funding systems for their residents and the larger states also have special support programs for students from low-income groups. At various levels, there are also charities that have performance or needs-related loans and scholarships for students, something that is increasingly needed. Tuition fees and other tuition expenses increased significantly more than the average household income in the United States during the 00s.

It is easier to gain admission to a public university than to a private one, but there are hardly any differences in the course requirements. There are many private universities, some of them related to religious communities. The course fees are usually five to ten times higher than at the state university, since a private university does not receive any financial support from the state. Return on donations is also an important source of income. The private universities are usually smaller but often more prestigious than the state. The competition to be accepted is therefore very fierce. For well-qualified applicants, there may be good opportunities to receive study grants at such a university. The leading private universities are clearly research-oriented and are high on international ranking lists, such asCalifornia Institute of Technology (Pasadena), Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut), Princeton University (New Jersey), Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts), MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge), Stanford University (San Francisco) and University of Chicago. Several Nobel laureates have come from there for the past hundred years.

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