In the United States, the standard school system developed from an uncoordinated conglomeration of dame schools, reading and writing schools, private academies, Latin grammar schools, and colleges into a well-organized system in which a child may progress from kindergarten to college in a continuous and efficient free public system. By 1890 there had evolved the now common twelve-grade system whereby the child enters kindergarten at the age of five, goes to grammar or elementary school for grades one through eight, high or secondary school for grades nine through twelve, and then enters college. Compulsory attendance at school has been legislated in all states, although standards of age and length of the school year vary considerably.
To meet the psychological and social stresses of early adolescence, the junior high school was introduced (1890-1920) in many systems for grades seven through nine. This organization, sometimes called the six-three-three plan, was designed to ease the transition period by having the junior high school introduce its students to many aspects of the high school, such as student government and separate classes for different subjects. Critics of the junior high school, however, contended that it merely copied the program of the high school, which they believed to be inappropriate for the age group that attends the junior high. In response, many districts have established intermediate, or middle, schools, usually encompassing grades five through eight.
To provide opportunity for advanced training beyond high school without a full college course, the junior or community college, which generally includes the first two years of college, has gained wide popularity. Not only does it prepare students for technical careers, it allows states and municipalities to fulfill their commitment to open enrollment, whereby any high-school graduate may enter a specified institution of higher education. More recently, a few high schools have combined a community college curriculum with the last two years of high school. Such a program is designed to encourage bright or disadvantaged students to remain in high school by enabling them to earn an associate degree in conjunction with a high school diploma.
Although in the United States schools are primarily the responsibility of state and local authorities, the federal government has passed a number of measures intended to assist schools and their students. The National Defense Education Act (1958) and the Higher Education Act (1965) were designed to provide financial assistance to college and university students. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965, amended 1966, 1967) was the first national general-aid education program in the United States. It provided funds for school library and textbook services, the education of poor and handicapped children, and educational innovations and construction by local school districts.
Public school services have been extended, in some communities, into the sponsorship of community centers, adult education, summer schools, and recreation programs. In addition, with the increase in the number of households where both parents work and in the number of single-parent households, programs such as Head Start have been established to care for preschool children. Special programs have been established for the deaf, the blind, and the mentally and physically handicapped and in some instances for the gifted. In large cities special high schools are sometimes set up to serve special student needs; e.g., there may be separate schools for artistic, industrial, scientific, and classical subjects. In the latter part of the 20th cent. public schools, particularly in economically depressed urban areas, suffered from economic cutbacks, an increase in student crime, and an inability to find qualified administrators and teachers. Efforts to revitalize public school systems have included such varied approaches as decentralized community control in large urban areas, privatization of public school administration, school vouchers, and charter schools.
The free public school system is paralleled in many areas by private and parochial schools. Preparatory schools are private schools operated primarily to prepare students for college. They correspond to English public schools, which are in fact private, endowed institutions. The English system, which is roughly organized according to a six-six model, has been used as the basis for many school systems in developing countries. These educational systems usually provide primary education for children up to ages 11 or 12 and a secondary program for students up to age 18.
See E. P. Cubberley, Public Education in the United States (1919, repr. 1962); G. Graham, The Public School in the New Society (1969); A. Garr, The School in the Social Setting (1974); G. L. Gutek, A History of the Western Educational Experience (1984); J. R. Rinehart and J. F. Lee, American Education and the Dynamics of Choice (1991).
In addition to these core schools, students in a given country may also have access to and attend schools both before and after primary and secondary education. Kindergarten or pre-school provide some schooling to very young children (typically ages 3-5). University, vocational school, college or seminary may be available after (or in lieu of) secondary school. A school may also be dedicated to one particular field, such as a school of economics or a school of dance. Alternative schools may provide nontraditional curriculum and methods.
There are also non-government schools, called private schools. Private schools may be for children with special needs when the government does not supply for them; religious, such as Christian Schools, Khalsa Schools, Torah Schools and others; or schools that have a higher standard of education or seek to foster other personal achievements.
The use of the term school varies by country, as do the names of the various levels of education within the country.
In the United Kingdom, the term school refers primarily to pre-university institutions, and these can, for the most part, be divided into pre-schools or nursery schools, primary schools (sometimes further divided into infant school and junior school), and secondary schools. There are various types of secondary schools which include grammar schools, comprehensives, secondary moderns and city academies. In Scotland school performance is monitored by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education. Ofsted reports on performance in England and Wales.
In the United Kingdom, most schools are publicly funded and known as state schools or maintained schools in which tuition is provided free. There are also private schools or independent schools that charge fees. Some of the most selective and expensive private schools are known as public schools, a usage that can be confusing to speakers of North American English. In North American usage, a public school is one that is publicly funded or run.
In much of continental Europe, the term school usually applies to primary education, with primary schools that last between six and nine years, depending on the country. It also applies to secondary education, with secondary schools often divided between Gymnasiums and vocational schools, which again depending on country and type of school take between three and six years. The term school is rarely used for tertiary education, except for some upper or high schools (German: Hochschule) which are used to describe colleges and universities.
In North America, the term school can refer to any educational institution at any level, and covers all of the following: preschool (for toddlers), kindergarten, elementary school, middle school (also called intermediate school or junior high school, depending on specific age groups and geographic region), senior high school, college, university, and graduate school.
In the US, school performance through high school is monitored by each state's Department of Education. Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. The terms grammar school and grade school are sometimes used to refer to a primary school.
Schools are organized spaces purposed for teaching and learning. The classrooms, where teachers teach and students learn, are of central importance, but typical schools have many other areas which may include:
The concept of grouping students together in a centralized location for learning has existed since Classical antiquity. Formal schools have existed at least since ancient Greece (see Academy), ancient India (see Gurukul) and ancient China (see History of education in China). The Byzantine Empire had an established schooling system beginning at the primary level. According to Traditions and Encounters, the founding of the primary education system began in 425 A.D. and "… military personnel usually had at least a primary education …". The Byzantine education system continued until the empire's collapse in 1453 AD.
Islam was another culture to develop a schooling system in the modern sense of the word. Emphasis was put on knowledge and therefore a systematic way of teaching and spreading knowledge was developed in purpose built structures. At first, mosques combined both religious performance and learning activities, but by the ninth century, the Madrassa was introduced, a proper school built independently from the mosque. They were also the first to make the Madrassa system a public domain under the control of the Caliph. The Nizamiyya madrasa is considered by consensus of scholars to be the earliest surviving school, built towards 1066 CE by Emir Nizam Al-Mulk.
Under the Ottomans, the towns of Bursa and Edirne became the main centers of learning. The Ottoman system of Kulliye, a building complex containing a mosque, a hospital, madrassa, and public kitchen and dining areas, revolutionized the education system, making learning accessible to a wider public through its free meals, health care and sometimes free accommodation.
The nineteenth century historian, Scott holds that a remarkable correspondence exists between the procedure established by those institutions and the methods of the present day. They had their collegiate courses, their prizes for proficiency in scholarship, their oratorical and poetical contests, their commencements and their degrees. In the department of medicine, a severe and prolonged examination, conducted by the most eminent physicians of the capital, was exacted of all candidates desirous of practicing their profession, and such as were unable to stand the test were formally pronounced incompetent.
In Europe during the Middle Ages and much of the Early Modern period, the main purpose of schools (as opposed to universities) was to teach the Latin language. This led to the term grammar school which in the United States is used informally to refer to a primary school but in the United Kingdom means a school that selects entrants on their ability or aptitude. Following this, the school curriculum has gradually broadened to include literacy in the vernacular language as well as technical, artistic, scientific and practical subjects.
Many of the earlier public schools in the United States were one-room schools where a single teacher taught seven grades of boys and girls in the same classroom. Beginning in the 1920s, one-room schools were consolidated into multiple classroom facilities with transportation increasingly provided by kid hacks and school buses.
The safety of staff and students is increasingly becoming an issue for school communities, an issue most schools are addressing through improved security. After mass shootings such as the Columbine High School massacre and the Virginia Tech incident, many school administrators in the United States have created plans to protect students and staff in the event of a school shooting. Some have also taken measures such as installing metal detectors or video surveillance. Others have even taken measures such as having the children swipe identification cards as they board the school bus. For some schools, these plans have included the use of door numbering to aid public safety response.
Stress effects students sometimes more severly then teachers, up to the point where kids are being prescribed stress medication. Reasons for this stress is claimed to be related to standardized testing, and the pressure on students to score above average.