Going to School

What does "K-12" education mean?

Primary education and secondary education together referred to as "K-12" education in the United States.

Today, almost 90 percent of American students attend public elementary and secondary schools, which do not charge tuition but rely on local and state taxes for funding. The other ten percent attend private schools, for which their families pay tuition. Four out of five private schools are run by religious groups, where religious instruction is part of the curriculum. There is also a small but growing number of parents who educate their children themselves, a practice known as home schooling.

Traditionally, elementary school includes kindergarten through the eighth grade. In some places, however, elementary school ends after the sixth grade, and students attend middle school, or junior high school, from grades seven through nine. Similarly, secondary school, or high school, traditionally comprises grades nine through twelve, but in some places begins at the tenth grade.

The United States does not have a national school system, but the government provides guidance and funding for federal educational programs in which both public and private schools take part. From Hawaii to Delaware, from Alaska to Louisiana, each of the 50 states has its own laws regulating education. From state to state, some laws are similar while others are not, but all states require young people to attend school. The age limit varies, however. Most states require attendance up to age 16, some up to 18. Thus, every child in America receives at least 11 years of education.

How we go to School

Education in the United States is locally controlled and administered. Consequently, there is a great deal of variation from one state to another, and even within a state. The basic structure, however, includes 12 years of regular schooling, preceded by one or two years of pre-school education, and followed for many by a four-stage higher education degree system (associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate) plus various non-degree certificates and diplomas.

These charts show the progression students follow through the primary and secondary school systems in the United States and Hong Kong. 

The United States
Elementary School
Grade Age Remarks
Kindergarten 5-6 K-2: Primary grades
1 (first) 6-7
2 (second) 7-8
3 (third) 8-9 3-5: Intermediate grades 
4 (fourth) 9-10
5 (fifth) 10-11
Hong Kong
Primary School
Middle School
Grade Age Remarks
6 (sixth) 11-12 *Some systems have Junior High School for Grades 7 and 8.   
7 (seventh) 12-13
8 (eighth) 13-14
High School
Grade Age
9 (Freshman) 14-15
10 (sophomore) 15-16
11 (Junior) 16-17
12 (Senior) 17-18
Secondary School

More information:

U.S. Education (InfoUSA)

Abridged from US State Department IIP publications and other US government materials.

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