Learn more about the broad field of education with respect to the formal education that's available in the United States to students of all ages—beginning with preschool and progressing through elementary school, middle school, and high school. Students who wish to pursue a higher education may choose to attend an institution of higher learning, such as a community college, a four-year college or university for an undergraduate degree, or a vocational school. Once in the workforce, professionals can continue education through professional development.
Most students in primary (elementary) and secondary (high school) schools attend public schools, but parents may send their child to a private school if they can afford to pay tuition costs. Students can also attend charter schools, which are semi-autonomous public schools that are exempt from a variety of laws and regulations provided they meet the terms of their charters.
Teachers follow a strategic plan known as a curriculum, which broadly outlines the topics they will teach their students. The curriculum for public schools is established at the state level; for example, the Common Core State Standards serves as the benchmark of what K-12 students should know in English and math for many states. Teachers use instructional content to cover curriculum topics. For many schools, the success of the instructional content is measured by student outcomes on standardized tests.
In the United States institutionalized education is mandatory for all children up to a certain age (varying by state), although formal education also includes the options of homeschooling or online schools for those who cannot or do not wish to go to a school building. Distance learning, which involves online classes, including MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), became more popular at the university level in the twenty-first century. This century also saw an increase in for-profit colleges, although critics have pointed to low graduation rates and high levels of student debt as evidence that such institutions are focused solely on profit at the expense of their students. Concerns over the high cost of higher education extends to state colleges and universities along with the fact that most students graduate with large student loans or end up dropping out of school because they can't afford the cost.
After graduation, those in the workforce can continue their education through professional development - or workforce development. A variety of professional development content, both formal and informal, has been developed for post-institutional learning. Professional development for careers in information science, social sciences, business, education, communication, finance, technology, and more, is widely available.