Role of Education
The United States has one of the most extensive and diverse educational systems in the world. Educational institutions exist at all learning levels, from nursery schools for the very young to higher education for older youths and adults of all ages. Education in the United States is notable for the many goals it aspires to accomplish--promoting democracy, assimilation, nationalism, equality of opportunity, and personal development. Because Americans have historically insisted that their schools work toward these sometimes-conflicting goals, education has often been the focus of social conflict.
While schools are expected to achieve many social objectives, education in America is neither centrally administered nor supported directly by the federal government, unlike education in other industrialized countries. In the United States, each state is responsible for providing schooling, which is funded through local taxes and governed by local school boards. In addition to these government-funded public schools, the United States has many schools that are privately financed and maintained.
More than 10 percent of all elementary and secondary students in the United States attend private schools. Religious groups, especially the Roman Catholic Church, run many of these. Many of America's most renowned universities and colleges are also privately endowed and run. As a result, although American education is expected to provide equality of opportunity, it is not easily directed toward these goals. This complex enterprise, once one of the proudest achievements of American democracy because of its diversity and inclusiveness, became the subject of intense debate and criticism during the second half of the 20th century. People debated the goals of schools as well as whether schools were educating students well enough.
History of Education in America
Until the 1830s, most American children attended school irregularly, and most schools were either run privately or by charities. This...