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Public Schools in the United States

The local, state, and federal policies govern education in the United States. Importantly, every child in the United States is required to attend education. The compulsory need for a child in the United States to attend education dates back to 2002 when the NCLB act was signed. The Act required that no child be left behind and all children are enrolled in the education system. The NLB act, by then, was a provision to support disadvantaged students attending elementary and secondary education. Standard-based education reform was also helped during the time. While the education system in the United States champions compulsory education for students, there is a variation in the age at which a student can discontinue schooling. Consequently, the interpretation is according to state policies and ranges from 14 to 18 years.

Like in most countries, public education is available to everyone in the United States. The federal government often funds Kindergarten to high school public education. In this case, children from Kindergarten to grade 12 are allowed to attend public schools for free. United states census (2000) showed that about 85% of students in the United States attend public schools while the remaining 15% are educated through privately funded education or are homeschooled.

There have been variations in the purpose of public schools with time. Multiple roles have been fulfilled throughout public education in the United States. Consequently, it is essential to note that the varying roles of public schools denote why the latter came into being and how it has evolved. In the early decades, the sole purpose of public schools was to prepare students for democratic citizenship. Kober & Rentner (2020) indicated that the founders of public education believed that citizens’ competency was the foundation of the success of the fragile American democracy. The founding fathers maintained that preserving democracy would require a competent population with an in-depth understanding of social and political issues.

Additionally, it was perceived that the educated population would adequately participate in civic life, resist tyrants, vote wisely, and protect their rights and freedom. Virtue and character were also emphasized during the time. In this case, it was maintained that good virtue and character influenced good citizenship; consequently, through education, moral instructions could be provided to build good moral values among citizens. Despite limiting voting to white males, it was noted that many leaders during the time supported girls’ education. This was in consideration that mothers had a better chance of educating their children while also setting tones for the country’s virtues.

In the 1830s, multiple provisions defined the purpose of public schools in the United States. It was a period when their common school movement emerged with various advocacies. For instance, the secretary of state and Massachusetts legislator advocated for universal availability of state, one that the federal government funds. The idea was to make education beneficial to every person in the country while building on literate, productive, and moral citizens. In this case, the common schools based their instruction on the three Rs. These include reading, writing, and arithmetic. Along the three Rs were also other subjects such as geography, rhetoric, history, and grammar. In addition, a strong emphasis was given to moral instructions to instill civic virtues. While education primarily focused on literacy, morality, and productivity, a slight variation of purpose was given to children of the poor.

In essence, children from low-income families were educated to prepare them for good jobs and strengthen the country’s economic position. Some reformers also debated that education was a way of achieving happiness and fulfillment in addition to citizenship and work for poor people. More reforms were further developed, advocating that public schools may not be a unifying factor if private schools attracted many students. This was when public schools became popular in the United States due to improved resources and learning infrastructure. In this case, the reforms championed that public schools should enroll many students across all social classes. In this case, the reforms encouraged public schools to enroll students, including those from well-educated and affluent families. However, the reforms were met with high resistance, especially from Americans who perceived that they could not pay to educate other people’s children. Consequently, passionate advocates for public schools failed to understand that public education could be universally equal to children across all ethnic and racial divides. This conception led to another understanding of public education purposes in the United States; the institution of eliminating crime, social problems, and poverty.

In the 20th century, public schools became a preeminent mission in enhancing equity for all. In essence, the purpose of public education was to improve equity. After decades of court decisions and legislation, universal access to public education matured in the 20th century. Equal education was now accessible to children across all racial, religious, linguistic, and ethnic divides. Additionally, children with disabilities and girls were provided with education opportunities. The need to propose public schools to ensure equity further attracted the Brown v. Board of education case, where state-sponsored segregation of public schools was declared unconstitutional. Consequently, public schools were placed at the vanguard of ensuring equity when there was an immense backlash.

In the current 21st century, the purpose of public schools has moved from ensuring access and promoting equity and citizenship to achieving high-quality education. Most public schools are doing their best to provide high-quality education. Nonetheless, the primary goals for establishing public schools, such as citizenship, preparing people for jobs, enhancing equity, and unifying diverse populations, are still relevant. However, a significant focus has shifted to achieving quality education and acquiring good grades.

Education is the current major topic of discussion in the United States. There exist divergent views about public schools in the United States that are evident in social media and among the general public. Currently, it is perceived that public schools in the country are marred with several challenges, including cuts from federal funding and variations in disciplinary policies. Notably, every person in the United States agrees that providing quality education is ideal for children in public schools. However, there exist diverging opinions on how schools should accomplish this goal. Safety in public schools is one of the heated debates among the public. High-profile mass shootings in public schools have been reported in the past decade leading to dozens of deaths and attracting debates on adequate strategies to keep students safe in public schools. For instance, the shooting at a high school in Florida resulted in the death of 17 people. Consequently, 57% of students reported fear of gun violence within their schools (Trade schools, 2020). Opinion critiques of gun violence in schools have also shown that more guns would lead to fear and more accidents and injuries in public schools.

Disciplinary policies have also been an issue of discussion among the public concerning public schools. According to data from the Department of Education Office for Civil rights, people of color face a disproportionately high expulsion and suspension. It was observed that black males in K-12 schools in the United States only make up 7.7% of children enrolled in public schools. However, they account for over 40% of school suspensions (U.S Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 2021). Public perception regarding implementing disciplinary practices indicates that some teachers apply the disciplinary rules in a discriminatory manner, considering what has been termed the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Furthermore, Fabelo et al. (2011) observed that students expelled or suspended from school are most likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.

Standardized testing has also attracted public opinion regarding public schools with the NCLB Act. Teachers and schools were judged based on how students scored on the tests. The standardization of tests was put in place to ensure that public schools in the United States were held accountable if they did not provide adequate instructions to students. However, standardization test has attracted divergent opinion among the public regarding public schools. The argument has been that the approach has attracted the teach-to-the-test approach in public schools. Consequently, the none-tested subjects such as physical education, art, and music are given minimal focus. The public further emphasizes that policymakers overemphasize standardized test results, which do not present a complete picture of learning.

Public schools still present as an optimistic chance for students in the U.S. Brown (2011) indicated that Public schools provide every American an opportunity to accomplish high school education. Besides, it is perceived that graduation rates have soared in the past years. With equity in public schools, African Americans have reached high standards of new success. Brown further reiterated that despite attacks from politicians and media on public schools, the institution had enabled many children from minorities to attend colleges, and their graduation rate is at an all-time high. Besides, the NCLB policy in public schools has further supported education by penalizing teachers and schools that set unrealistic expectations with expensive tests. Therefore, NCLB supports ensuring students’ success and promoting excellence through public schools.


Brown, D. F. (2011). Why America’s Public Schools are the Best Place for Kids: Reality Vs. Negative Perceptions. R&L Education.

Education. United States Census (2000). Archived from the original on April 3, 2009.

Fabelo, T., Thompson, M. D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks, M. P., & Booth, E. A. (2011). Breaking schools’ rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students’ success and juvenile justice involvement. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Trade schools. (2020). Major Issues in Education: 20 Hot Topics (From Grade School to College).

U.S Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. (2021). An overview of exclusionary discipline practices in public schools for the 2017-18 school year.


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