American Schools vs. the World: Quality Education, Flexible but Expensive, Bad at Math

Studying in America has many advantages, but before you pick which program suits you best meets your needs, you must first know about the education system in USA. There is a wide range of choices and opportunities, here is all the information related to the educational structure of the America, that you need to take a decision that is right for you.

The Educational Structure of America


Prior to higher education, American students attend primary and secondary school for a combined total of 12 years. These years are referred to as the first through twelfth grades.

Around age six, U.S. children begin primary school, which is most commonly called “elementary school.” They attend five or six years and then go onto secondary school.

High school students are required to take a wide variety of courses in English, mathematics, science, and social science. They may also be required to take foreign language or physical education, and they may elect to take music, art, or theatre courses. Many high schools also offer vocational training courses. A course can be one semester or two semesters in length. The academic year generally begins in mid-August and ends in early June.

In the United States, education is compulsory for all students until ages sixteen to eighteen depending on the individual state. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 87.1% of people over the age of 25 were high school graduates. Most high school students graduate at the age of seventeen or eighteen-years-old. A student graduates after he or she has successfully passed all of the required courses. Grades are given to students for each course at the end of each semester. The grading scale is A (excellent), B (above average), C (average), D (below average), and F (failing). A student who fails a required course must repeat the course.


Just like American students, you will have to submit your academic transcripts as part of your application for admission to university or college. Academic transcripts are official copies of your academic work. In the U.S. this includes your “grades” and “grade point average” (GPA), which are measurements of your academic achievement. Courses are commonly graded using percentages, which are converted into letter grades.


The school calendar usually begins in August or September and continues through May or June. The majority of new students begin in autumn, so it is a good idea for international students to also begin their U.S. university studies at this time.

The academic year at many schools is composed of two terms called “semesters.” (Some schools use a three-term calendar known as the “trimester” system.) Still, others further divide the year into the quarter system of four terms, including an optional summer session. Basically, if you exclude the summer session, the academic year is either comprised of two semesters or three-quarter terms.

America Is Struggling at Math

The score of Americans at the PISA test of mathematics, ranks America at 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. The US math score is not statistically higher or much more than other countries of the world i.e Norway, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Russia Federation, Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Sweden, and Hungary.

Further, Only 13 percent of the American students scored highest or second highest in the PISA test score, making them top performers from America. However, fifty-five percent of the students from Shanghai-China were considered to be top performers, while only nine percent of the American students were the top performers from the country.

One in four US students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report.

Even the top students from America are behind. This year, PISA test report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida.  Massachusetts, is considered to be one of the high-achieving US state having an average score above the national level that is requires for PISA and is still two years of formal schooling behind China.

America Spends a Lot of Money Per Student

The financial structure of America is one of its greatest strength. Undoubtedly, America spends a lot of money on its educational system compared to the other countries of the world. That is the reason why the US ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S., spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000.

Socio-Economic Class Plays a Larger Role in the U.S. Than in Other Countries

The US is the only country having lower than average number of “resilient students” which PISA defines it as the students who are among the 25 percent of most socio-economically disadvantaged students but they are found to perform much better than would be predicted by their socio-economic class. On an average seven percent of the students are considered to be resilient. Thirteen percent of the students in in Korea, Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Vietnam are resilient.

Fifteen percent of the American score variation is explained by socio-economic differences between the students. Less than ten percent of the score variation in Finland, Hong Kong, Japan and Norway is due to socio-economic differences.

The Countries That Are Doing Well 

Finland is declared as the best educational system in the world and continued to perform as well. Other countries that are performing well are parts of China, Japan, Kores, Singapore, Liechtenstein, topped the rankings in Mathematics, reading and science. However, Finnland dropped 2.8 points in mathematics, 1.7 points in

Parts of China, Singapore, Japan, Korea, and topped the rankings for math, reading, and science. Finland, which is often pointed to as an example of an excellent school system, continued to perform well. However, the country dropped 2.8 points in math, 1.7 points in reading, and three points in science in “annualized changes in score points,” which are the “average annual change in PISA score points since the country’s earliest participation in PISA.”

The biggest annualized score improvements came from Brazil, Tunisia, Mexico, Turkey, and Portugal. Italy, Poland, and Germany also showed gains since 2003.


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