Created in 1980, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is the cabinet-level agency that establishes policy for, administers, and coordinates most federal assistance to education. It is directed by the secretary of education, who assists the president of the United States by executing policies and implementing laws enacted by Congress.
The DOE has six major responsibilities: (1) providing national leadership and building partnerships to address critical issues in U.S. education; (2) serving as a national clearing-house of ideas on schools and teaching; (3) helping families pay for college; (4) helping local communities and schools meet the most pressing needs of their students; (5) preparing students for employment in a changing economy; and (6) ensuring non-discrimination for recipients of federal education funds.
Although the current DOE has existed for only a short time, its history dates back to 1867, when President ANDREW JOHNSON signed legislation creating the first education department as a non-cabinet-level, autonomous agency. Within one year, the department was demoted to the office of education because Congress feared that it would exercise too much control over local schools. Since the Constitution did not specifically mention education, Congress declared that the secretary of education and other officials should be prohibited from exercising direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, instructional programs, administration, or personnel of any educational institution. Such matters are the responsibility of states, localities, and private institutions.
Over the next several decades the office of education remained small, operating under different titles and housed in various government agencies, including the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR and the former U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES).
Beginning in 1950, political and social changes resulted in greatly expanded federal aid to education. The Soviet Union's successful launch of the satellite Sputnik in 1957 resulted in an increase in aid for improved education in the sciences. President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in the 1960s involved many programs to improve education for poor people. In the 1970s, these programs were expanded to include members of racial minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, and non-Englishspeaking students.
In October 1979, Congress passed the Department of Education Organization Act (93 Stat. 668 [20 U.S.C.A. § 3508]), which established the current Department of Education. Since that time, the DOE has continued to expand its duties by taking an active role in education reform. In 1983, the DOE published A Nation at Risk, a report that described the deficiencies of U.S. schools, stating that mediocrity, not excellence, was the norm in public education. This led to the development in 1990 of a long-range plan to reform U.S. education by the year 2000.
Called America 2000: An Educational Strategy, the plan has eight goals: (1) all children will start school ready to learn by participating in preschool programs; (2) the high-school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent; (3) all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, art, history, and geography; (4) teachers will have opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills needed for preparing students for the twenty-first century; (5) students will be first in the world in mathematic
and science achievement; (6) every adult will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy; (7) every school will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol; and (8) every school will promote partnerships to increase parental involvement in the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.
Many of the goals of this educational initiative were praised by some educators, although the initiative was not...