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American and Russian Public Education.
The aim of my work is to compare the system of education in USA and Russia according to their structures and most distinguishing features. First of all we will compare the mechanisms of education system control on federal and local levels as well as education policies of the countries. Then the education models will be considered and the closest alternatives in the Russian system will be overviewed.
The US have decentralized education system which means that there is no national school system. According to the Constitution the ultimate power to create and administer education policy rests with the 50 states. There are no national laws addressing a prescribed curriculum the establishment and recognition of institutions, the recognition of degrees or professions, the governance of institutions, or the legal status of students or faculty. The US Department of Education, contributing about 7% of total education spending, has only the following functions:
Education policy and administration in the United States begins at the state level (establishing curriculum guidelines, school health and safety laws, inventing and developing policies of public primary and secondary education, designating and appointing agencies and boards to oversee public education at all levels, etc.) and continues at the local and institutional levels. In most states, education policies is developed by the state board of education and the state legislature, while the state department of education, headed by the superintendent (or commissioner), is responsible for implementing policy and overseeing the state's school districts.
State boards are bodies of prominent citizens that, depending on the state, are either appointed by the legislature or governor, or elected by the public. What they are to do is to perform a certain oversight of educational policies (approving new ones and further development or correction of those existing), budget priorities and considering of requests from local agencies. However the certain functions of state boards may vary in different states: there are some cases when a state board is responsible for all levels of education, but the situation when the board concentrates on the primary and secondary levels is the most common.
State superintendents are the highest education officials in state government, and are usually appointed by the state board of education or the governor. (A few states elect the superintendent.) The generic name for such positions is the "chief state school officer." These individuals manage the day-to-day affairs of state departments of education and report periodically to the state board, the legislature, and the governor.
The situation with the governing of education in Russia is different in some important aspects such as the centralized system of education, when there is a certain national policy that determines the education system. However, experiments in the sphere introduced and financed by state governments (for example, foundation of bi-lingual schools in the national republics, where pupils are taught their native language) are allowed and even appreciated by the federal governors. The federal ministry of education, science and social development establishes the curriculum guidelines, compulsory for the whole public schools including a wide range of gymnasiums and lyceums. Although they claim to have their own educational policies and curriculums aimed to suit their educational priorities, both the curriculums and policies introduced have to correspond with the major guidelines of the national policy, otherwise there will be no accreditation for these lyceums.
The structure of the education system of the both countries has much in common excepting some peculiarities. The experiment of introduction the12-year education is almost over and children are able now to attend school since the age of 6 and the 9-grade education (between the ages of 7 and 16) is compulsory in both countries. Unfortunately, special programs for disabled children as well as programs and grants for gifted and talented pupils are a far cry from those in the USA. Recent pools showed a great lack of information about the programs provided by the government to people (as well as the constant lack of financing of those programs) The “school choice” provided by American education system is, in fact, also available in Russia.
School choice is an educational reform initiative that seeks to permit parents greater flexibility in placing their children in the school of their choice (as opposed to a local school district assigning children to schools based solely on their area of residency). Though originally children in Russia are assigned to the schools of their areas of residency they are allowed to choose another school. Gymnasiums and lyceums can be considered as the equivalents of Magnet schools in the US, where enrollment is also competitive and programs emphasize particular themes such as the fine arts, science and technology, or the humanities.
As far as the Free-Choice learning, “self-directed, voluntary, and guided by individual needs and interests" is concerned I must admit that since the last 15 years lots of experiments and attempts were made on the local level to introduce the similar system in Russian schools but those reforms are still partial and inefficient since the profound reorganization of the whole public education system is required to reach the goal of establishing the real free-choice system.
Talking about “the free-choice” in Russian schools I can share my own experience. The choice I and my classmates were provided with after the 6th grade aimed not at creating our individual curriculums according to our interests and abilities, but at dividing the year into three major guidelines: technical, biological and the humanities. Though I had the opportunity to choose the number of lessons of each subject per week I was to strictly follow the guidelines and the variety of subjects was poor in comparison with the one they have in the US. That is one of the examples of school headmasters trying to overcome the contradictions between the national education policy and the requests of local governments for innovations and introducing new techniques in education.
In conclusion I’d like to emphasis on the fact that there is no education system that can be called universally best. Every country establishes its own unique education system according to the historical background and traditions as well as current needs and circumstances. It is impossible to profit by plain and careless introduction of alien programs and policies without sensible adjusting them to the local system. The care about the quality of the public education is vital for every country and the best way to improve it is to digest and develop the experience of other countries.
Falk, John H. & Dierking, Lynn D. (2002). Lessons Without Limit: How Free-Choice Learning is Transforming Education.
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