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What is going to school like in the U.S.?

The United States school system is divided into grades comprised of levels extending from kindergarten through 12th grade. These grade levels are divided into two school systems made up of elementary and secondary schools. Local school districts decide which grade levels are considered elementary vs. secondary.

  • Elementary school system. The elementary school system is made up of the lower grades, namely kindergarten through 8th grade (K-8). These grades are often divided into elementary grade levels and middle or junior high school grade levels. Each local area region determines which grade levels are considered elementary and which are part of middle or junior high school.

  • Secondary school system. The secondary school system is made up of the higher grade levels and is commonly referred to as high school. High school is typically comprised of the 9th through 12th grades.

Types of Schools

In the United States, parents have many choices when it comes to the type of school they can send their child to. There are three major types of schools:

  • Public schools. Public schools are funded by local and national governments. These schools are open to the public, and they are free.

  • Private schools. Private schools tend to be funded by private and/or independent organizations and grants. Students usually have to apply for admission and pay money to attend a private school.

  • Charter schools. Charter schools are nonsectarian schools that tend to have a mixture of funding agencies, including local and state governments, grants, and private contributions. Charter schools are alternative public schools that do not have the same restrictions as regular public schools. The contract between a charter school and its founders also determines the mission and focus of the school. Charter schools vary in their admissions process, but they do not cost anything. For more information on charter schools, visit:

Average School Calendar

Students in the United States attend school for an average of 6.5 hours a day, 180 days a year. Local school districts and individual schools determine the specific months, days, and times of operation.

Standards-Based Education

Academic content standards tend to determine curriculum and instruction within the United States school system. Content standards specify topics and concepts that students are to be taught at each grade level. Academic standards are set for each core subject: English/Language Arts, Mathematics, History/Social Science, and Science. Each state establishes and evaluates its own academic standards.

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