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K-12 Education in the United States

When my maternal grandfather graduated from high school in 1905, only five percent of Americans graduated from high school. The U.S. was just beginning to transition from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy.

As fewer Americans were needed to live and work on farms, a migration of the population ensured to the cities. Child labor laws preventing children from working were enacted and states focused on enrolling more children in grades K-12. On the eve of World War II in 1940, less than half of the population 25 and older had a high school diploma.

Fast forward to 2017 and for the first time ever, 90 percent of Americans 25 and older have earned a high school diploma or G.E.D. One of the biggest reasons for this growth is the increase in jobs requiring at least some post-secondary education with enrollment in those programs requiring an applicant to have earned a high school degree.

Growth in the number of Americans with a high school diploma doesn’t mean that everyone is happy with the educational outcomes in our K-12 system. For years, standardized test scores used to assess academic progress of fourth graders, eighth graders, and high school seniors have declined.

K-12 education is primarily funded by the states and none of the 50 have the same amount of funding or even curriculum. Some state legislators have authorized charter schools to exist. Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately run public schools. A few states have implemented education savings accounts that allow citizens of that state with children to use a specified amount of money to cover tutoring, textbooks, and even private school tuition. Widespread reform is expected in K-12 education over the next decades.