Web teaser: Education and sports in the USA
Unlike in most European countries, there is no national system of education in the USA. Public education (offentlige skoler) is the responsibility of each of the 50 states, and the day-to-day running of schools is delegated to local boards of education. For this reason the ages for compulsory education vary, but children generally start school between the ages of 5 and 7 and leave between 16 and 18.
Secondary education is divided into two stages. From the age of 11 or 12 students attend junior high school or middle school. Then they go on to senior high school, often referred to simply as high school, graduating at 18. Although some students drop out of school, a large proportion of young people graduate from high school at the age of 18.
As there is so much local control, the quality of the schools in different parts of the United States varies a lot. The funding of schools is dependent upon taxes raised by the local community. So to put it bluntly, poor areas tend to have bad school facilities whereas wealthy areas have good schools.
About 10% of students in primary and secondary education attend private schools. These schools are funded by tuition (skolepenger) and grants from organizations and private individuals. Most private schools are run by religious institutions and organizations and many of them have a particular educational profile. In general, private schools are much more independent than public schools. For example, religion is taught in private schools, but not in public schools, and private schools may select their students themselves.
A typical feature of American daily life is the yellow school bus with the words “School Bus” painted in enormous letters along its sides. Some children have to travel long distances, either because they live a long way away from the nearest school, or because they want to attend a specialized school. Busing has also been used to make schools more racially mixed. Pupils then travel to schools in a different area from where they live. This policy has been criticized, and today youngsters generally attend schools in their local communities.
High school students are not expected to specialize, but take a broad variety of classes instead. Science, mathematics, English, social science and physical education are generally compulsory subjects. In addition to these the students take subjects of their own choice – academic and/or vocational.
High school sports
High schools generally organize a wide range of after-school activities. Students may choose between performing arts (drama and dance), music, creative arts (painting and crafts) and different kinds of sports and games. Every large high school has teams for basketball, football, baseball and other sports. There are high school sports leagues in a number of different sports, and matches are attended by both students and staff. At home matches cheerleaders often create a supportive and inspiring atmosphere. High school games often attract a lot of spectators and are followed by the local community.
High school sports competitions serve as a stepping stone for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Those who excel at sports are often offered scholarships at prestigious colleges or universities. Here they may get a good education and practice their sports at the same time. Some athletes go on to become professionals.
Traditionally a large proportion of young people in the USA go on to higher education. Students attend colleges or universities and stay for four years to gain a bachelor’s degree. Many then go on to take more specialized master’s or doctor’s degrees. Most students receive federal loans to cover part of their studies, and a few get federal grants or scholarships from other sources.
For a long time American universities have had teams in all kinds of sports. These teams are professionally managed by specially employed coaches. If a team has regional or even nationwide success, the media will cover its development. Therefore these teams are a means to market the university in order to recruit new students. College sports are very prestigious, compared to what is the case in for example Norway, and are seen as a further stepping stone to a professional sports career.