The culture of education in the USA and greater North America in general, is geared to open-ended thinking and learning and good schools focus on new and research-based practises. Indeed, many of the 'best practises' which have spread around the world have come from the US and this has had a good impact on the skill and knowledge of teachers. For example, STEM or STEAM education, which focuses on integrating technology into the curriculum, has become a world-wide approach to teaching and learning as has the approach called, 'Guided Reading.'
Traditionally, each US state has had its own curriculum based on the unique culture and contexts of each. As a result, this meant that there were varying expectations from one state to another for core subjects like English and Mathematics. In attempt to standardise the curriculum expectations across the US states, the 'Common Core State Standards' were implemented in 2010. It is optional for school boards/districts to adopt these standards, although now most do. Within Dubai, authorised 'American Curriculum' schools must adopt the Common Core (curriculum) standards and be accredited by the NEASC accrediting body (as advised by the KHDA). Otherwise, schools are not allowed to refer to themselves as an 'American' or 'American Curriculum' school. This initiative helps to ensure that schools have a minimum standard.
The 'American' philosophy of education could be said to teach students to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers and reinforces 'how' to think vs. 'what' to think. ''Constructivism' is an educational philosophy that is embodied in most American schools and encourages students to learn actively while creating their own meaning and understandings of concepts. In this way, students are encouraged to think outside of the curriculum and make the learning relevant to their own lives and experiences. In most schools, confidence is nurtured and students are encouraged to be good speakers and well-rounded individuals. The American education system is less-structured than the British system and could roughly be considered to fall between the British and IB system in terms of how structured the curriculum and teaching and learning are.
Traditionally in American schools, individual schools can interpret their curricula in different ways. The creativity of teaching is left up to the teacher so learning activities from one school to another would likely be different. Although the 'standard' would be clear and must be met, the way that schools would go about doing that would be left up to them to decide. For example, a grade 6 teacher in one school might choose to teach how to 'add fractions' using a baking activity while another teacher could choose to use a pencil-and-paper activity. Although they are both meeting the same learning objective (standard) of the lesson, they could go about it differently.
In American schools, students usually begin formal reading in Grade 1 but do get exposed to working with letters and sounds in kindergarten. Emphasis on 'developmentally-appropriate practises' or knowledge about child development is emphasised within the learning activities designed for young children. From there, students continue on in school until they are in Grade 12, at which time, they can graduate with a 'high school diploma' which is the basic requirement for school leavers, although many schools also offer 'AP' or 'Advanced Placement' courses (rigorous, college-level courses) or even the IB Diploma.