Overview of Public Schools

A comprehensive look at the U.S. public school system, including history, governing bodies, funding, and services. Compare private, public and charter schools. Learn more about Magnet school programs and get tips on choosing the right school for your child.
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Ask the experts and they all agree— schools with robust foreign language programs can bring students to the next level.


Public schools that invest in foreign language, whether through a full-fledged program or just a few classes, are certain to see the benefit in their student body, extracurriculars, and overall reputation. Full language programs start at an early age, immersing children in language classes every year from K-12, with extracurricular clubs, field trips, and learning experiences to enhance their language education. 



It’s clear there is currently a gap in language education. As of 2008, only 18.5% of K-12 students were enrolled in a foreign language class. From 1997 to 2008, public and private elementary schools offering foreign language instruction decreased from 31% to 25%. These numbers are simply not acceptable.



There are many reasons why schools, even those at the most elementary levels, should institute a foreign language program into their core curriculum. Dr. Jennifer Austin, an associate language professor at Rutgers University, is an adamant believer in the benefits of language studies. “Researchers have found that there are lifelong cognitive and academic benefits to becoming bilingual.”



Robert Riger, Vice President and Director of Pimsleur Language Programs, believes foreign language is the gateway to the rest of the world. “At an age where students begin to form individual preferences, dreams, and set priorities, it’s a clear road map to the next step. For many, it’s a passport to global citizenship, to dreams of connection with future friends and with their own future selves. It puts much of their other schoolwork into context and brings concrete connections to formerly abstract skills and lessons in history, civics, or science.”



However, there remains some concern that the United States is falling behind in terms of foreign language study when compared to other nations. Just take a look at China, a nation which has more English students than the entire United States population. One would think global competition would be reason enough, but there are many more reasons for educators to invest in language . . . read more
Once children have graduated from diapers and baby food, the next big decision for parents becomes where to send their precious tots to school. There are many choices available to parents today, from the neighborhood school down the street to charter and private schools in the area. How does a parent know which school will be the best fit for his child? The choice is never easy, but it helps to weigh the pros and cons of each of these types of schools to see which might present the greatest benefit.

Of course, one of the first variables parents must weigh when comparing the various types of schools is cost. Public schools are “free” institutions by law, although they may charge fees and students may be required to provide their own supplies. Charter schools are also considered public schools, so there is no tuition cost assessed. However, private schools can – and do – charge tuition to students and their parents, and in some cases, those costs can be rather high.
According to a report at Fox News, the average tuition cost for private secondary schools during the 2007-2008 school year was around $10,500. Great Schools also cites statistics from the National Catholic Education Association that show while private parochial schools tend to charge lower tuition rates, the average tuition for these schools is still around $2,600 for elementary schools and nearly $7,000 for secondary schools.

Public schools are required to accept all students within that district, without discrimination based on race, gender or socioeconomic status. Charter schools are also prohibited against discriminating against students. However, these schools are often in high demand and may hold lotteries or similar arrangements for determining which students gain admission.
Private schools are not subject to discrimination rules, and can therefore be much more selective about the students they enroll. For example, some schools may have a lengthy application and interview process students must undergo prior to admittance. These schools might also restrict admission to students of a specific religious affiliation or ethnicity.
Teacher . . . read more
The governance of public schools is a rather complex issue that incorporates various government entities at the federal, state and local levels. In theory, these various levels should create a tapestry that addresses the needs of students at the most local level without sacrificing education quality across the country. While the model doesn’t always work as planned, the system of checks and balances does provide a mostly workable national education system that crosses state and district lines. Learn more about the basics of public school governance in the United States today.
Federal Oversight
The federal government is responsible for four basic functions in public education today, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. Those four functions include:

  • Policies related to Education Funding – These policies can promote certain education reform, by offering additional funding to states and districts that choose to abide by federal standards. EdSource explains that the current administration is attempting to do just that, by offering competitive grants through the Race to the Top program. States that fall in line with Race to the Top standards and recommendations stand to receive additional funding from Uncle Sam.
  • Collection of Data and Research – This information is used to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the current state of public education today. By identifying weaknesses in public education, states can draft new policies to close the gaps and improve education quality overall.
  • Identification of Problems in Education at the National Level – By shining the light on learning gaps and other problems in the education system, the federal government encourages states to take action sooner, rather than later.
  • Enforcement of Discrimination Laws – The federal government is responsible for ensuring every child in America receives the same quality of education, regardless of gender, disability, location or income level.

State Governance
The states are primarily responsible for overseeing public education today. State governments determine how much of the budget will be used for education funding, which is typically the largest line item in an annual state budget. States are relatively autonomous . . . read more
Students in the public school system in the United States are eligible for a variety of services, depending on their needs. Under Title I, students in need are provided with additional assistance to promote their success in school and beyond. Title I funding is provided to more than 90 percent of the school systems across the country, with the money used in a variety of ways to help low-income students break the cycle of poverty with the tools they need for academic success.
What is Title I?
Title I is one of the oldest public education programs in the United States, as well as one of the largest. The program provides additional funding to school districts with a large population of low-income students to help students in this demographic meet the academic standards assigned by the state. The program was established as the Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and its purpose is to “ensure that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education,” according to the U.S. Department of Education website.
The Department of Education also lists strategies that should be implemented by local school districts to achieve that purpose with the provided funding, which include:

  • Meeting the educational needs of low-income and minority students
  • Holding schools and governments accountable for academic achievement of students
  •  Use of tools, assessments and instruction that are aligned with state standards
  • Closing the achievement gap between high and low-performing children
  • Providing professional development for staff that increases academic performance
  • Distributing resources where the academic needs are the greatest
  • Providing students with an enriched and accelerated academic program
  • Offering parents opportunities to become active participants in their children’s education
  • Ensuring schoolwide reform through evidence-based academic strategies

Programs are offered at the federal, state and local levels to address these strategies and achieve the overall goal of a high-quality education for all children in the U.S., regardless of race, gender and socio-economic level.
Federal Programs
Under Title I, there are a number of federal programs that focus on ensuring all students receive the same quality . . . read more
Public education in the United States has evolved into a complex maze of options designed to address a wide range of student needs and learning styles. However, the multitude of choices can also make it challenging for parents to weed through and understand the various options available to them and their children. To help break it down, check out this list of some of the more common options in public schooling today.
Neighborhood Schools
The traditional community school continues to be the most common type of institution of public education today. Public schools in a district are typically zones, so those living in the community know which school they are assigned. Neighborhood schools allow students the opportunity to make friends with classmates right in their area. In some districts, parents are allowed to enroll their children in a school outside their immediate neighborhood, if the chosen school is closer to the parent’s workplace or the parent simply wants his child to attend a different school.
Charter Schools
Charter schools began to make an appearance in the 1990s, and their presence has consistently grown in all but 10 states across the country. Education Bug lists the states without current charter laws as Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, South Dakota, Washington, Vermont, West Virginia, Nebraska, Montana, and North Dakota. Charter schools are public schools, but parents choose to send their children to a charter school, rather than simply attend based on district zoning.
Like other schools, charters receive money from taxes, but they also raise private funding. Charter schools must adhere to the goals of their charter, as well as state standards, but may be exempt from other regulations that typically apply to traditional public schools. Some charter schools focus efforts in a particular area, while others emphasize their learning around core curriculum that may or may not be used in the rest of the public school system.
Magnet Schools
Magnet schools got their start in the 1970s, as a way to encourage diversity within the public school system. Today, these schools are often considered to . . . read more
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