The term education system generally refers to public schooling, not private schooling, and more commonly to kindergarten through high school programs. Schools or school districts are typically the smallest recognized form of “education system” and countries are the largest. States are also considered to have education systems.
Simply put, an education system comprises everything that goes into educating public-school students at the federal, state, or community levels:
- Laws, policies, and regulations
- Public funding, resource allocations, and procedures for determining funding levels
- State and district administrative offices, school facilities, and transportation vehicles
- Human resources, staffing, contracts, compensation, and employee benefits
- Books, computers, teaching resources, and other learning materials
- And, of course, countless other contributing elements
While the term education system is widely and frequently used in news media and public discourse, it may be difficult to determine precisely what the term is referring to when it is used without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation.
Like the teaching profession, education systems are, by nature, extremely complex and multifaceted, and the challenges entailed in reforming or improving them can be similarly complex and multifaceted. Even reforms that appear to be straightforward, simple, or easily achieved may, in practice, require complicated state-policy changes, union-contract negotiations, school-schedule modifications, or countless other conditions. For a related discussion, see systemic reform.
Given its widespread use and universal familiarity, the term education system can fall prey to what psychologist call the “illusion of knowledge”—or the tendency for people to think they have a better understanding of something than they actually do. For example, most people would say they understand what a teacher is and does, yet—if pressed—many people would not be able to explain precisely what people need to do to become certified as teachers, how state policies and requirements may dictate or influence what teachers teach in a course, what specific instructional methods are commonly used by teachers and which seem to work best, how educational research informs new instructional approaches, or how certain kinds of professional development can improve teaching effectiveness in a school, among many other things. When investigating or reporting on education reforms, it may be useful to look for more concrete, understandable, and relatable ways to describe abstract concepts such as education system.