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US area studies


   Though the Federal government contributes almost 10% to the national education budget, there is no such thing as a national education system in the USA. Within a general national framework, each state is responsible for its own education system, is largely responsible for financing it, and determining how much money it is willing to spend. In recent years, some states have been spending more than twice as much per pupil on education as other states; in 2005, budgets varied from $5,257 per pupil in Utah to $14,119 per pupil in New York.
   States also determine the number of years of compulsory education: in most states, education is compulsory from five or six to sixteen; but in some states teens have to stay on in school until age 18.
   In most places, the public education system is divided into local school districts, which are managed by a school board, representing the local community. School districts can be small, covering just a small town or rural county, or enormous, covering a whole large city; according to their local policy, they will delegate a varying amount of freedom or independence to each individual school within their sector.
   In some states, the system is very bureaucratic, with state education authorities playing a major role. Generally, public education is run by "school district" boards, who are responsible for coordinating education policies, planning for changing educational needs in the community, and often even establishing programs and curricula. 
The Chicago School board, in an attempt to improve standards among the city's many temporary teachers, recently introduced a rigidly structured curriculum which tells the city's 27,000 teachers exactly what to teach in each lesson. The program is voluntary, but inexperienced teachers are strongly encouraged to adhere to it.

Many things, nevertheless, are standard throughout the USA. Everywhere, pupils enter 1st Grade at age 6, and go up one grade each year until either leaving without "graduating", or else going right through to 12th Grade, and then graduating from high school. Generally speaking, "high schools" cover the last three or last four grades, i.e. they begin either with 9th Grade or 10th Grade. 

Exams and tests:
During their high school years, pupils are given "grades" for all their courses, and these are recorded. At the end of 12th Grade, the pupil's grades are averaged out to provide a "GPA" or Grade Point Average, which will often be used as a selection criterion when they apply to college or university. Students in 12th Grade also take "SAT's", Scholastic Aptitude Tests. These are the second principal tests used as criteria for admission to college or university; but they are not exams in the same way as their European or Japanese equivalents (French baccalauréat, German Abitur, English "A" levels), and are generally less demanding. In recent years they have been much criticized.
   SAT I is a 3-hour test composed of two sections, Verbal and Math, and consists mainly of multiple-choice questions; by design, most candidates do not have enough time to finish the test in the time given. SAT II's are one-hour subject-specific "achievement tests", and again are almost entirely MCQ's, though the "writing" test contains a twenty minute essay. 

A system in need of reform?
Successive American governments, including the Clinton and Bush administrations, have been determined to reform education in the USA, and bring it up to standard. President Bush launched a major new education reform bill in January 2002.  President Obama has pledged to make a major overhaul of the US education system.
   When it comes to international comparisons, the American education system is not one of the best. 
     Systematically, international surveys of educational achievement show  that the United States of America performs worse than many, if not most, other developed countries, particularly at high school level. In recent years, surveys have shown that the average American high school student is less numerate than teenagers in Japan or most European countries.

Charter Schools:
The Bush administration developed the system of "charter schools", schools that are run under contract by private companies or not-for-profit organizations - a system that has so far produced rather mixed results in the USA, with many real successes but also some notable failures.  By 2009, over 3,000 charter schools had been set up across the USA. Charter schools are funded by the state, but operate without the constraints of the state system. They must be free.

After high school...
While most junior and high schools in the USA are public, the same is not true at university level, more than half of all American universities, and most of the more famous ones including Harvard, Yale and Georgetown, are private. However, public "state" universities tend to be much larger, and in fact provide over half of all university places in the USA. American universities are intensely competitive, a fact that is seen as being one of the main causes for the very high quality of the best among them.

The cost of studying in a US University can vary enormously; from nothing at all, to over $50,000 a year, if you take into account  tuition, board and lodging, and other living expenses. In a lot of good universities, tuitiion fees are between $20,000 and $30,000 a year – though there are a lot of bursaries, remissions and other ways of reducing the costs for students with modest resources or high skills.

The value of education: 
In 2005, the average income of people in America who took their education no further than 9th grade (about age 16) was $25,900. In the same year, college graduates (bachelor's degree ) earned on average $45,400, and those with an advanced degree earned $72,824.  Ph.D's had an average income of over $81,000, according to US Census bureau figures. welcomes input and feedback from EFL teachers and ESL teachers worldwide.

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