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A public high school is a secondary school in the United Statesmarker of America that is financed by tax revenues and other government-collected revenues and administered exclusively by state and local officials. On the other hand, private schools are typically funded by tuition and private donations. Thus, access is limited to those willing and able to pay. In some areas, school vouchers programs are bridging the gap between private and public education.

The modifier "high", as applied to the noun "school", seems to have been arisen in the popular vocabulary to distinguish secondary schools from primary or elementary, schools.

Grade levels beginning in 9th grade and ending in 12th grade are commonly referred to with qualitative, rather than numerical, names. These are: "freshman" for 9th grade, "sophomore" for 10th grade, "junior" for 11th grade and "senior" for 12th grade. These terms are used more often to refer to each successive year in the university curriculum.


Public schools may offer a variety of programs, including magnet program, which allow students to study the basics of a given career or career field or International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which is a rigorous academic program. There are several levels of coursework, including regular or average coursework (taught on high school level), advanced or honors coursework (taught on an advanced high school level), Advanced Placement (college-level work offering tests at the end of the academic year that give high school students the opportunity to earn college credit), dual enrollment (college courses made available to high school students at taxpayer expense) and remedial classes (for students who need extra attention to meet benchmarks).

Many public high schools provide both curricular and extracurricular activities. Some national clubs and activities available to most schools include:

Conflicting issues

The public purpose of the typical public high school is two-fold: (1) primarily and mainly to prepare its graduates to enter the labor force and (2) also to prepare a segment of its students to continue on to post-secondary education (i.e. vocational school or technical school, community college or junior college and university).

At present it remains unclear whether social conflicts between elements of these two groups result in a diminution in overall quality of individual educational attainment and experience. The presence of such conflict may be an impetus for the development of and support for university-preparatory schools, wherein all, rather than only a portion, of the students enrolled aspire to attend university.

Moreover, racial segregation and desegregation have become major social issues. The Little Rock Nine, for instance, were forcefully integrated into the public school system in Little Rockmarker, Arkansasmarker.

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