The Department of Education

There has been discussion of eliminating the Department of Education (ED), as many feel  decisions should be made at the state level, thus reducing the need for a federal office. In fact, the ESSA gave many decisions back to the state, especially with regard to testing and curricula.   What are the responsibilities of the ED?

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The United States Department of Education  was founded on October 17, 1979, and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. The mission of the Department of Education is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” (Ed.Gov). It engages in four types of actions:

  1. Establishes policies related to federal education funding, administers distribution of funds and monitors their use.
  2. Collects data and oversees research on America’s schools.
  3. Identifies major issues in education and focuses national attention on them.
  4. Enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in programs that receive federal funds.

Ensuring equal access. That’s a hot topic these days. The current Secretary considers school choice as equal access. Those who live in great neighborhoods have equal access, but those who live in inner cities do not have equal or access.

The Department carries out its mission in two major ways. First, the Secretary and the Department play a leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education system for all students. This involves such activities as raising national and community awareness of the education challenges confronting the Nation, disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning, and helping communities work out solutions to difficult educational issues.

Second, the Department pursues its twin goals of access and excellence through the administration of programs that cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research (Ed.Gov).

Here’s a perspective on the roles and responsibilities of the ED from Diane Ravitch who worked as the Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush.

“The ED has no capacity whatever to assure or ascertain quality of education. Very few people who work there have a view about what education is or should be. That is not their job. Most have worked for ED for many years, regardless of which party is in power. They do not express their views. They do their job. They write checks, collect data, review contracts. They can tell you how many students are served in which programs. They can determine how much money is allocated and spent. The Department consists of clerks and bureaucrats. I was there. Nothing has changed. Educators are in schools, not at the U.S. Department of Education.”

As Secretary DeVos considers her legacy for students in this country which will likely include an increase in unregulated charters, a voucher system, the elimination of the ESEA and deep changes to the ESSA, let’s hope she understands the mission.

Promote student achievement. Fostering educational excellence. Ensuring equal access.

These are my reflections for today.





Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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