While there is no official census of museums in the United States, the American Association of Museums estimates that there are approximately 17,500 museums across the country. To put this in perspective, the number of museums in the United States is almost exactly equal to the number (17,619) of public high schools (public schools that offer a curriculum for the 12th grade) in the country. Like public high schools, museums serve a variety of missions that include education as a central component. Like public high schools, museums are extremely diverse, ranging from small local institutions that serve a neighborhood or a modest group of patrons numbering a few hundred, to large, well-funded organizations that serve hundreds of thousands of people each year. Like public high schools, there are museums that emphasize the arts, museums that emphasize science and technology, as well as many general-interest museums. It is true that far fewer museums are funded by the local public sector. It is also true that restricting attention to the set of persons who attend each type of institution, the average time spent per year within the institution is much greater for schools than for museums so that the impact on each participating individual is likely to be greater for schools. On the other hand, museums are called upon to complement schools and play an increasing role in the provision of a specialized curriculum, particularly in arts education where many smaller communities may rely heavily on local museums.
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