Education, Department of

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EDUCATION, DEPARTMENT OF. Public Law 96-98, known as the Department of Education Organization Act, established the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) on 4 May 1980.It was established to increase the commitment of the federal government to assuring equal access to educational opportunity; improving the quality of education; encouraging greater involvement of parents, students, and the public in federal education programs; promoting federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information; enhancing the coordination of federal education programs; improving the management of federal education activities; and increasing the accountability of federal education programs to the public, Congress, and the president. The department was the first cabinet-level education agency of the U.S. government. It superseded the U.S. Office of Education, established in 1867, and replaced the National Institute of Education, established in 1972.

The Federal Role in Education

There are several organizations within the DOE. They include the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Planning and Evaluation Service, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the Office of Special Education Programs, and the National Research and Dissemination Centers for Career and Technical Education.

In the United States, state and local governments decide most education policy. The role of the federal government is restricted by the Tenth Amendment to that of guarding the right of its citizens to equal access to public institutions and equal opportunity within them. Additionally, through the funding of research, financial aid to students, and the dissemination of information, the federal government is involved in improving the quality of education. The federal government also funds and administers elementary and secondary schools for dependents of civilian and military personnel abroad, operated by the Department of Defense, and has some control over postsecondary institutions that prepare students for military careers. Otherwise, it is not involved directly in post-secondary educational institutions except for certain responsibilities delineated in the Civil Rights Act of 1864. Education funding comes primarily from state, local, and federal taxes.

Programs of the Department

The DOE has undertaken programs in elementary, secondary, postsecondary, vocational, bilingual, and special education, and has fulfilled specified responsibilities for four federally supported institutions: the American Printing House for the Blind; Gallaudet University; Howard University; and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The department coordinates its efforts with the cabinet departments of defense, commerce, health and human services, and labor; the National Science Foundation; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and other federal agencies with education-related assignments. The department works primarily to ensure both equal access (for such groups as the disadvantaged, racial and religious minorities, the disabled, women, and at-risk children) and educational excellence in terms of measurable performance.

National Goals

In 1981, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell created a National Commission on Excellence in Education, whose report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Re-form (1983), called for widespread, systemic reform, including stronger graduation requirements, more rigorous and measurable standards, more time in school, and significantly improved teaching. A national debate ensued, and throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the department remained at the forefront of campaigns to introduce national curriculum and assessment standards to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable for higher levels of achievement.

Following President George Bush's Education Summit in 1990, the nation's governors adopted six National Education Goals to enable the country to develop standards of performance for all schools and to measure progress toward the achievement of these standards. The original goals, intended to be met by the year 2000, follow: first, all children will start school ready to learn; second, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent; third, American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography, with every school in America ensuring that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in a modern economy; fourth, U.S. students will lead the world in science and mathematics achievement; fifth, every adult American will be literate and will possess the ability to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; and sixth, every school will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

Federal Legislation

Between 1990 and 1994, a number of new laws were enacted that changed the American education system: the National Literacy Act (1991); the Education Council Act (1991); the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (1992); the Education of the Deaf Act Amendments (1992); the Rehabilitation Act Amendments (1992); the Student Loan Reform Act (1993); the Rehabilitation Act and Education of the Deaf Act Technical Amendments (1993); the Migrant Student Record Transfer System Act (1993); the Higher Education Technical Amendments Act (1993); the National Service Trust Act (1993); the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (1994); the School-to-Work Opportunities Act (1994); the Safe Schools Act (1994); the Educational Research, Development, Dissemination, and Improvement Act (1994); the Student Loan Default Exemption Extension Act (1994); the Improving America's Schools Act (1994); and the National Education Statistics Act (1994).

Reform at the federal level, stemming from the America 2000 Excellence in Education Act, called for funding for Presidential Merit Schools (rewards to schools that make progress in raising achievement, fighting drugs, and reducing the dropout rate); Presidential Awards for Excellence in Education ($5,000 awards to teachers who meet the highest standards of excellence); National Science Scholarships (annual scholarships for high school seniors to encourage them to take more science and math courses); and Magnet Schools of Excellence (competitive grants awarded to local districts to support magnet schools for purposes other than desegregation).

On 8 January 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which mandated that states and school districts develop strong systems of accountability based on student performance. The act also enabled federal Title I funds to be used for supplemental education services, such as tutoring, after-school services, and summer programs, tripled the federal funding investment in reading through the Reading First program, and provided almost $3 billion during the first year to improve teacher quality.


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Christine E.Hoffman

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