Getting to Grips with the US Education System

Moving your family to the US is a huge step, especially with small children in tow. They may have already started school in the UK or they may be preparing to be wholly educated in the US. Your children could be part of the reason for your move, to give them a better quality of life with more opportunities. Whatever your reasons for moving to America and however old your children are, getting to grips with schools and education is a must.

Schools are very much controlled by local states and so long as they comply with legislature detailed in the No Child Left Behind Act, each education department is run by an elected body as that state feels fit. So they are responsible for setting local education policies, employing teachers, arranging term dates, etc.

As a general rule, most children have started school in Grade One by the time they are 6 years old and will remain in school until Grade 12 when they are 18. Most parents elect to send their children to Kindergarten from the age of 5, just as we would send our children to Reception from the age of 4.

US School Stages

Elementary school is the equivalent of primary school, taking pupils on from reception (kindergarten) to Grade 6 (11 years old). After elementary school is Junior High or Middle School which takes children from Grade 7 to Grade 9 (12 to 14 years old) and finally the last two Grades are spent in Senior High.

A wide range of subjects is taught including the compulsory subjects of Maths, English, PE and Science however, within these subjects they can choose to study certain topics such as biology, calculus and theatre. Some schools have a minimum grade requirement before that student can progress or graduate. Failed courses usually have to be repeated.

US School Terms, Uniform and Exams


School terms are set by the elected board and so can vary from state to state. The US school year usually begins on or around Labour Day, which is the first Monday in September and ends within the first two weeks of June. Christmas holidays can be either one or two weeks starting just before Christmas and ending just after New Year. Spring Break is anytime during March or April.

Morning lessons are usually staggered to allow the school buses to arrive, so you may find that children in High School will have a later start time than children in elementary school and this may be the case at the end of the day too.

Uniforms are not a requirement of state schools but each school may have its own dress code.

Tests are set each term and students are continually assessed, achieving grades from A to F. National College Aptitude Tests are taken during the last two years of Senior High and these grades count when applying for University. Most students graduate from Senior High with a high school diploma.

You can find out more about how the US education system works with Wikipedia and discover what people think of the US school system with British Expats.

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