Most schools start at the kindergarten level. There are some school districts that do not have this beginning phase, and others which have an additional “pre-school” one.
Elementary (primary) and secondary (high) schools are organized on one or two bases: eight years of elementary school and four years of secondary school, or six years of elementary, three years of junior high school and three years of senior high school.
Although there is no national curriculum there are almost always required subjects at each level. Primary school children in the United States learn much the same things as do children of the same age in other countries.
Almost every elementary school instructs children in penmanship, science, mathematics, music, art, physical education, language arts (which include reading, writing and grammar), and social studies (which include geography, history, and citizenship).
Most secondary schools require students to take English, mathematics, science, social studies, and physical education. In addition to this “core” curriculum, students choose “elective” courses in their areas of interest.
What makes curriculum offerings more similar is a growing trend to adopt certain types of educational programs and competencies by state legislatures across the country. For instance, since 1985 nineteen states have passed legislation requiring students from schools throughout the state to pass a minimum competency test before they receive their high school diplomas. This, plus the fact that an additional twenty-three states have some form of minimum competency testing, creates strong pressure for curricular uniformity. Course content is also similar because expressed social goals are quite uniform throughout the United States. Additionally, much of what is taught in schools is influenced by the books and materials that are used. Because the large textbook companies sell books and series of books from state to state and from coast to coast, commonalities are further emphasized.
Another reason for similarity is the general uniformity of schooling procedures. For instance the number of hours of instruction and days in the school year is practically the same throughout the United States. Other similarities in schooling procedures include the length of classes, the time between classes, the use of bells, the number of pupils in each class, the awarding of credits (Carnegie units) for the completion of courses, the requirement of a fixed number of Carnegie units for graduation, the bureaucratic structure within the school systems. Also similar are the school rituals, such as book fairs, pep rallies, and graduation ceremonies.
In addition to curricular offerings and schooling procedures, actual teaching methods provide another element of uniformity in schools today. Verbal explanations, presentations and questioning, and assigning seatwork and drill on new material are among the main tools of the teaching trade.
Those who believe that American schools are more play than work overlook an important fact: a high school diploma is not a ticket that allows someone to automatically enter a university. Standardized examinations play a decisive role at almost every level of education, especially in the admission to colleges and universities. Students, who wish to go to a good university but only took high school courses that were a “snap”, or who spent too much time on extracurricular activities, will have to compete with those who worked hard and took demanding courses.
There are two widely used and nationally-administered standardized tests for high school students who wish to attend a college or university. One is the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), which attempts to measure aptitudes in verbal and mathematical fields necessary for college work. The other is the ACT (American College Testing program), which attempts to measure skills in English, mathematics, and the social and natural sciences. Both tests are given at specific dates and locations throughout the U.S. by non-profit, nongovernmental organizations. The tests are used by universities as standards for comparison, but are not in any way “official”.
2.4 American School from the Point of View of Russian Teenagers
Since the objective of our research is to view American system of education from different angles. Firstly we tried to find out what Russian teenagers, in our case senior students of Lyceum 37, know about their peers overseas. We made up a questionnaire containing a number of questions to conduct a survey among the students of the 10th and 11th grades. The results gave us much food for thought.
Out of 86 students who participated in the survey more than a half believe that education in the USA is free, 22 per cent, however, are sure it is paid and 17 per cent do not know anything about it.
As far as the minimum school age is concerned opinions differ. Among those 50 per cent of respondents who think that education in the USA is compulsory 26 per cent believe that American children begin to go to school at the age of 5, 13 per cent suggest 6 and 11 per cent consider children start school at the age of 7. The age at which students graduate from school caused even more controversy. 18 per cent of the respondents think high school students leave school at the age of 18, 15 per cent believe they do it at the age of 17, 8 per cent mention 16 years of age, 2 per cent 15 years of age. The rest are not aware of the fact at all.
The second chapter of our research deals with the differences and similarities in American education. As for Russian students 35 per cent are not able to answer the question, 39 per cent think the system of education is uniform and only 26 per cent of the respondents know that in spite of many similarities one can hardly speak about a unified national educational system.
Similarly, opinions differ when Russian students are asked about the system of examinations in American schools. Although the majority of the respondents (89%) know that examinations and tests are conducted in the written form, 24 per cent consider that high school graduates are required to take examinations in all subjects on the curriculum. 76 per cent, nevertheless, assume that students of the 12 grade can choose the subjects and the number of examinations.
Even less is known about enrollment in college. 74 per cent of the questioned believe that school graduates are admitted to college or university according to the results of school examinations.
It turned out that Russian students know more about the possibility to choose subjects according to ones aptitude and level of proficiency. 74 per cent of the students believe that American teenagers can choose classes within a certain subject area.
Due (thanks) to a great number of American movies on Russian television and DVDs 63 per cent of the respondents know that in most public schools students are not required to wear a uniform, although the rest 37 per cent either do not pay attention to what American teenagers wear at school or do not see American movies at all.
The results of the survey prove that Russian students are well aware of sports and extracurricular activities in American school. 71 per cent believe that Sports is one of the most important subjects on the curriculum and much heed is paid to physical development of students. 98 per cent of the respondents think that American students are provided with excellent opportunities to join clubs and participation in all kinds of organizations, alliances and clubs is very popular among (with) American teenagers.
Very little is known about education for mentally and physically challenged students or students with disabilities. The USA is known throughout the world as the land of equal opportunities, thus children of various abilities (or disabilities) are given equal chances to get their education. So one can find students in wheelchairs, partially blind or deaf sitting in the same classroom as other students. They are approached differently and are taught under individualized syllabus adapted to their skills and abilities. The progress they make is supervised by specialists and coordinators who are in charge of teaching special students. The main idea is that interacting and socializing with other students develop their social skills and as a result they are more likely to get adjusted to life in modern society. However 89 per cent of Russian respondents believe that students with disabilities in America are taught in special schools.
One more controversial issue is that of school discipline. In spite of the fact that in most American schools very strict measures are taken to prevent and fight truancy and school violence the majority of Russian students think that the atmosphere in American high school is more relaxed and little is done to maintain “law and order”. Despite the introduction of “zero-tolerance” policy in most schools and, as a result, a considerable decrease of crimes committed within school precincts. American school is still viewed by most Russian students as a place where teenagers are free to do whatever they want.
Summing up, we can say that Russian students have a certain idea of American secondary education, at least, some of its aspects, which enables them to make rather a categorical conclusion that American system of education can hardly be called more efficient or more productive than the Russia one. This opinion is sha