Many high schools in the United States offer a choice of vocational or college prep curriculum. Schools that offer vocational programs include a very high level of technical specialization, e.g., auto mechanics or carpentry, with a half-day instruction/approved work program in senior year as the purpose of the program is to prepare students for gainful employment without a college degree. The level of specialization allowed varies depending on both the state and district the school is located in.
Many states require that courses in the "core" areas of English, science, social studies, and mathematics every year although others allow more choice after 10th grade. The majority of high schools require four English credits to graduate.
Generally, three science courses are required. Biology, chemistry, and physics are usually offered. Courses such as physical and life science serve as introductory alternatives to those classes. Other science studies include geology, anatomy, astronomy, health science, environmental science, and forensic science.
High school mathematics courses typically include pre-algebra, algebra I, geometry, algebra II w/ trigonometry classes. Advanced study options can include precalculus, calculus, statistics, and discrete mathgenerally with an opportunity to earn Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation. Usually, only three math credits are required for graduation (although four is recommended).
English/Language classes are usually required for four years of high school although many schools count journalism, public speaking/debate, foreign language, literature, drama, and writing (both technical and creative) classes as English/Language classes.
Social science classes include world history, U.S. history, government, and economics. Government and economics classes are sometimes combined as two semesters of a year-long course. Additional study options can include classes in law (constitutional, criminal, or international), criminal justice, sociology, and psychology.
Many states require a health or wellness course in order to graduate. The class typically covers basic anatomy, nutrition, first aid, sexual education, and how to make responsible decisions regarding illegal drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. In some places, contraception is not allowed to be taught for religious reasons. In some places, the health and physical education class are combined into one class or are offered in alternate semesters. In some private schools, such as Catholic schools, theology is required before a student graduates. Two years of physical education (usually referred to as "gym," "PE" or "phys ed" by students) is commonly required, although some states and school districts require that all students take Physical Education every semester.
Public high schools offer a wide variety of elective courses, although the availability of such courses depends upon each particular school's financial situation. Some schools and states require students to earn a few credits of classes considered electives, most commonly foreign language and physical education.
Common types of electives include:
- Visual arts (drawing, sculpture, painting, photography, film studies, and art history)
- Performing arts (choir, drama, band, orchestra, dance, guitar)
- Vocational education (woodworking, metalworking, computer-aided drafting, automobile repair, agriculture, cosmetology, FFA)
- Computer science/information technology (word processing, computer programming, graphic design, computer club, Web design and web programming, video game design, music production, film production)
- Journalism/publishing (school newspaper, yearbook, television production)
- Foreign languages (French, German, Italian, and Spanish are common; Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Greek, Latin, Korean, Dutch, and Portuguese are less common, though the former two are gaining popularity.)
- Business Education (Accounting, Data Processing, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Business, Information and Communication Technology, Management, Marketing, and Secretarial)
- Family and consumer science/health (nutrition, nursing, culinary, child development, and additional physical education and weight training classes)
- Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (In some schools, JROTC may replace a credit of health or P.E.)
- Some American high schools offer drivers' education. At some schools, a student can take it during school as a regular course for a credit. At some schools, drivers education courses are only available after school.
The Association for Career and Technical Education is the largest U.S. association dedicated to promoting this type of education.
Levels of education
Middle school / Junior high school
Middle schools, or junior high schools, are schools that span grades 7, 8, and sometimes 5, 6 and 9, which straddle primary and secondary education. Upon arrival in middle school or junior high school, students begin to enroll in class schedules where they take classes from several teachers in a given day. The classes are usually a set of four or five (if foreign language is included in the curriculum) core academic classes (English or "language arts," science, mathematics, history or "social studies," and in some schools, foreign language) with two to four other classes, either electives, supplementary, or remedial academic classes.
Some students also start taking a foreign language or advanced math and science classes in middle school. Typically schools will offer Spanish and French; and, often German; and, sometimes Latin; Chinese, Japanese, and/or Greek. In addition to Pre-Algebra and other high school mathematics prep courses, Algebra I and Geometry are both commonly taught. Schools also offer Earth Science, Life Science, or Physical Science classes. Physical education classes (also called "PE", "phys ed", Kinesiology, or by the older term, "gym") are usually mandatory for various periods. For social studies, some schools offer U.S. History, Geography, and World History classes.
Most also have "honors" classes for motivated and gifted students, where the quality of education is higher and much more is expected from the enrolled student.
Successful completion of middle school or junior high school leads to entry into high school.
Breakdown of different models of primary, secondary, and post-secondary education
High school comprises grades 9 or 10 to 12. Most American high schools are comprehensive high schools and accept all students from their local area, regardless of ability or vocational/college track. Students have significant control of their education, and may choose even their core classes, although the control given to students varies from state to state and school to school. The schools are managed by local school districts rather than by the central government.
Some states and cities offer special high schools with examinations to admit only the highest performing students, such as Boston Latin School or Alexandria, Virginia's Thomas Jefferson High School. Other high schools cater to the arts. Some schools have been set up for students who do not succeed with normal academic standards; while others, like Harvey Milk High School, have even been created for special social groups such as LGBT students.
Most states operate special residential schools for the blind and deaf, although a substantial number of such students are mainstreamed into standard schools. Several operate residential high schools for highly gifted students in specialized areas such as science, mathematics, or the arts. A smaller number of high schools are operated by the Department of Defense on military bases for children of military personnel.
Most high schools have classes known as "honors" classes for motivated and gifted students, where the quality of education is higher and much more is expected from the enrolled student. Some high schools offer Regular Honors (H) (sometimes called Advanced), Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, which are special forms of honors classes. International schools offering programs of study in line with foreign systems of Education, such as those of Britain and France, are also available. Some schools also offer dual-enrollment programs, in which select classes at a university may be taken for both university and high school credit.
Graduation from high school leads to the awarding of the high school diploma. After this secondary education is considered complete and students may pursue tertiary level study.
Types of schools
West Orange-Stark High School, a college preparatory high school in Texas
Secondary education can be provided within a number of different schools and settings.
The United States public education system is structured into three levels: elementary(also known as primary) education, middle and high school (which is secondarytogether) education, and college or university level (also known as post-secondary) education. Schooling starts at age 5-6 and ends anywhere from 16-18 depending on the school system, state policy, and the students progress. Pre-School or Pre-Kindergarten accept as young as age 3 and is not required. From there education models differ as elementary school can last anywhere from grade 5 (age 10–11) to grade 8 (age 13–14) depending on the structure. Some states have middle schools which is part of secondary education and between elementary school and high school encompassing grades from 6 to 9, while others have no middle school and instead combined mixed high schools. High school is generally grades 9-12, with the exception of the mixed model which is 7-12.
All children are guaranteed the right to a free public elementary and secondary education when living within the jurisdiction of the United States regardless of race, gender, ability, citizen status, religion or economic status. Public education in the United States is mainly the responsibility of State and local level administration levels. As of 2010-2011 around 13,588 school districts exist within which around 98,800 public schools exist in the United States. Only 8% of funding for public schools comes from non-federal sources, the other 92% comes mostly from state and local funding. Curriculum requirements vary state by state as it is up to these states and local school districts, in addition to national associations if applicable, to come up with and be approved by the federal government in order for them to receive funding. Most schools mark proficiency in a subject through the A-F grading scale accumulating throughout years creating a grade point average or G.P.A. Parent involvement is encouraged in the U.S. with many having parent-teacher associations otherwise known as PTA's.
Private schools are schools that are not public, they are not run by any government, but rather function as an independent institution. Private school range from levels of kindergarten to undergraduate, various institution usually accommodating different levels. Majority of private schools have a tuition cost of attendance. As of 2013-2014 there were 33, 619 private schools in the United States. Majority of private schools in the United States are associated with religious orientations making up 68.7% of all private schools as of 2013 - 2014. This is a number had an increasing trend in the period of 1989-2005 however, it dropped by about 9% in 2006-2007, but seems to be increasing again.
All independent schools, not limited to just private schools, must comply with federal laws of non-discrimination and health privacy & financial security laws. These include
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (for employees or applicants over the age of 40)
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Equal Pay Act
- 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (discrimination based on race)
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, and/or national origin)
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (employment or reemployment discrimination based on military service)
- Revenue Procedure 75-50 (independent schools can not discriminate on the basis of race in any programs or financial assistance)
More specific legal restrictions apply to private schools on the state level and vary based on the state.
A private schools can accept money from the federal government otherwise called "Federal financial assistance" which can come as funds in the form of grants or loans, donations, assets and property or interest in property, services by federal employees or contract of intent to receive federal assistance, involvement in federal programs. Schools receiving funding must comply with additional federal regulations included in many of the above acts. However, policy can also have exceptions to these regulations based on the private school characteristics such as having religious belief that the law would be defying or being involved in military development.
Charter schools are subject to fewer rules, regulations, and statutes than traditional state schools, receive less public funding than public schools, typically a fixed amount per pupil and are often over-subscribed.
College-preparatory schools, commonly referred to as 'prep schools', can be either publicly funded, charter schools or private independent secondary schools funded by tuition fees and philanthropic donations, and governed by independent boards of trustees. Fewer than 1% of students enrolled in school in the United States attend an independent private preparatory school, a small fraction compared with the 9% who attend parochial schools and 88% who attend public schools. While these schools are not subject to government oversight or regulation, they are accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies for educational institutions.
It is estimated that some 2 million or 2.9% of U.S. children are home educated. Home schooling is lawful in all 50 states, and although the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on homeschooling specifically, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) it supported the rights of Amish parents to keep their children out of public schools for religious reasons.