Education in the U.S.A


  1. Key Country Statistics
  2. The Educational System
  3. Education in Action

Accurate as of April 2013; unless indicated otherwise, the websites are all in English. Acknowledgement: Jeremy Eichler.


Key Country Statistics 

Key statistics for the U.S.A. relevant to education are as follows:

  • Population: 313.8 million (2012)
  • Spoken primary languages: English (82%), Spanish (11%), Indo-European languages (4%) and Asia-Pacific languages (3%)
  • Literacy (understood as age 15 and over can read): 99%
  • School life expectancy: Total = 16 years (primary to tertiary education)
  • Number of public elementary and secondary schools: 99,000 (2012 estimation)
  • Public elementary and secondary school population: 50 million (2012 estimation)
  • Public elementary and secondary school budget: $571 billion (2012 estimation)

For more general information about education in the U.S.A., please visit the CIA World Factbook and the websites of the United States Department of Education (whose primary mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence for all Americans), the National Center for Education Statistics (a branch of the Department of Education that collects and analyses education-related data from the U.S. and other nations) and the National Education Association (which presents information on education related issues and actions, tools and ideas, grants and events and also includes an education press center and links to state affiliates).

The Educational System

Students may spend 1 to 3 years in preprimary programmes (prekindergarten and kindergarten), which may be offered either in separate schools or in elementary schools, that also offer higher grades. In 2010, about 64 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in preprimary education (nursery school and kindergarten).

Public school enrollment at the elementary level (prekindergarten through grade 8) rose from 29.9 million in the of fall 1990 to 34.2 million during the fall of 2003. Elementary enrollment is estimated at 34.9 million as of autumn 2011. Public school enrollment at the secondary level (grades 9 through 12) rose from 11.3 million in 1990 to 15.1 million in 2007, with a projected enrollment of 14.5 million for 2011. At the elementary and secondary level, there are also non-public schools such as charter schools, distance learning centers, home schools, religious schools and private schools.

Post-secondary enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21.0 million between 2000 and 2010 reflecting a general trend in the population, with an increase in the number post-secondary student.  Approximately 58 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2004, completed a bachelor’s degree at that institution within 6 years. There are numerous endowments and other forms of financial aid which are available to qualified applicants. The type of universities that exist vary from large public universities with tens of thousands of students to small private universities with a few hundred students. There are also several distance learning universities now available which attract thousands of students each year. For more information, and contain information and resources for people wanting to go to the U.S. to pursue further education.

An overview of the United States school system can be found on the websites of the U.S. State Department, the University of Minnesota and the University of Heidelberg. An online digital library of education research and information can be found at the website of the Education Resources Information Center, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

Education in Action 

Charter schools

Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that are subject to the rules and regulations applicable to public schools, receive public money, but have a higher level of flexibility than normal public schools. Their missions are set forth in the charter specific to each school, and attendance based on individual choice. More information on charter schools can be found at the website of the U.S. Charter School Center. In addition, Achievement First offers a network of public charter schools promising equal opportunity for all and Uncommon Schools is a non-profit organisation that starts and manages urban charter public schools.

Technical education

Technical education in the United States varies across states. Many vocational schools are privately owned career schools while some are two-year community colleges which offer transfer to four-year universities. See the websites of the Association for Career and Technical Education and the American Association of Community Colleges for more information. In addition the School-to-Work initiative links academics to gainful employment.

Special education / Students with disabilities

The number of public school students that are served by federally supported special education programmes is estimated at 13%, as of 2010. For more information visit the the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ website as well as the website of the Association on Higher Education and Disabilities. The Council for Exceptional Children’s website also provides relevant information in this respect.

Teachers’ associations

Teachers’ associations provide valuable information to teachers on everything from teaching standards, teacher representation and educational advocacy to scholarships and grants, professional development and teacher resources. For more information, visit the website of the Association of American Educators, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the American Federation of Teachers. In addition, Teach for America dedicates itself to finding high-achieving individuals who will do whatever it takes to help their students succeed, the New Teacher Center works to better prepare new teachers at the start of their careers and offers both a wealth of information on the teaching profession and as well as an annual $2,500 scholarship to help pay for teacher education and other associated expenses.

Information technology

The relationship between information technology and education is complex and ever-changing. For information on how technology is transforming change in education visit the websites of Educause, the International Society of Technology in Education, the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, the American Society for Information Science and Technology and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

Educational equity

For information on the pursuit of educational equity and opportunity, as well as bringing down the achievement gap, particularly for disadvantaged public school children, visit the website of the Institute for Educational Equity & OpportunityThe Education Trust, the Alliance for Excellent Education and The Advancement ProjectThe New Teacher Project is dedicated to ensuring that poor and minority students get equal access to effective teachers and Achieve Inc. works to ensure that disadvantaged children are fully prepared for College, across the country.