Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Public Schools Work


No Child Left Behind
Credit: White House photo by Paul Morse                              President Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind bill.
Credit: White House photo by Paul Morse President Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind bill.
White House photo by Paul Morse

In 1983, a report entitled “A Nation at Risk” made waves in the educational community when it suggested that other countries were far outperforming American schools. As a result, many parents and educators demanded school reforms and greater accountability.

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, a controversial measure that was designed to increase public school accountability. It requires schools to test students in reading and math each year in order to identify poorly performing schools. Schools that fail must allow students to transfer to better performing schools. Failing schools have to make improvements by hiring new teachers and/or changing curricula, or they risk being taken over by the state.

Supporters of the Act say that it holds schools accountable for their performance, and gives parents greater choice when their schools aren’t living up to standards. Opponents say the No Child Left Behind Act forces schools to “teach to the test,” focusing primarily on the core subjects of reading and math at the expense of other areas of study.

Year-Round Learning

While some kids are packing up their duffel bags and getting ready to ship off to summer camp, others are heading back to school. Many schools are moving to a year-round program, following the philosophy that the long summer break in the traditional school year gives kids too much time away from learning and puts them at an educational disadvantage.

Even though they're structured differently than nine-month schools, year-round programs don't actually give kids more time in the classroom. They run for 180 days, just like traditional school programs, only the school year is shifted. Year-round schools that are on a single-track stay open all year, but instead of having a summer break, they have several three- or four- week breaks scattered throughout the school year. Multi-track schools work on a shift basis in order to accommodate greater numbers of students. Children are assigned to different "tracks," which are staggered so that some children are on vacation while others are in school.

Currently, there are 3,000 year-round schools in the U.S., of which the majority are public schools. Proponents argue that students in year-round schools score higher academically, but opponents say the practice disrupts children's summers and costs communities extra money.


More to Explore