Traditional education isn't a specific type of education, and the meaning of traditional education varies by location and time. Traditional education is a culturally sanctioned form of teaching that focuses on the values a culture deems most important. It stands in contrast to alternative education, which may use unusual methods, teach nontraditional skills or use controversial measures of progress. In the United States, a traditional education focuses on basic skills and preparing children for the workplace.

Mastering Basic Academic Skills

A traditional education in the U.S. focuses on helping students master key skills such as reading, writing, math and science. The recently instituted Common Core Standards codify specific benchmarks for students at every level of education. For example, Common Core mandates that first graders master basic number operations such as addition and that they understand how to compare the measurements of three objects. Common Core language arts standards focus on preparing students for college and careers by improving reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Teaching Cultural Values

Traditional schools focus on teaching key cultural values such as independence and respect for authority. Students are measured according to their individual achievement and are encouraged to master skills such as working independently, sitting quietly while listening to a teacher and taking turns talking. Students also learn shared cultural values such as patriotism, a belief in the value of the U.S. Constitution and respect for historical figures such as the founding fathers.

Preparation for Adulthood

Career and adulthood preparation are key components of a traditional education. Students learn skills such as showing up on time each day, and may be penalized for tardiness or missing classes. There is a strong value placed on hard work, and most schools assign homework beginning in the early grades, gradually increasing the amount of homework students receive each year.

Focus on Achievement

A traditional education focuses on student achievement, and typically provides some standardized measure of achievement. Report cards, grades and promotion from one grade to the next are hallmarks of a traditional education. In recent years, the public school system has increasingly relied on standardized tests as another way to measure student achievement. Advocates of nontraditional education, such as Alfie Kohn, have argued that these tests don't measure important skills and can destroy a child's interest in learning for learning's sake.