U.S. Department of Education - History of Business in the U.S.
Identification: Cabinet-level department of the U.S. government charged with creating and monitoring federal financial aid programs for education, collecting data on schools, and ensuring equal access to education
Date: Established in 1867; became a cabinet-level department in 1979
Significance: Because it is the responsibility of the Department of Education (ED) to establish and disseminate educational policy and to inaugurate and oversee federal funding designated for educational assistance, this department has direct responsibility both for identifying the needs of personnel to join the American workforce and developing means to train people to fill these needs.
Although public education in the United States has always been the responsibility of the individual states, the federal government first became officially involved in overseeing it, however minimally, on March 2, 1867.Onthat day, President Andrew Johnson signed into law a bill that established the Department of Education, a government agency without cabinet status headed by a commissioner of education, the first of whom was Henry Barnard. He served from1867 until 1870 with a staff of three and an initial budget of $15,000.
The establishment of this department was controversial. Many people did not want their communities to lose control of their schools. Congress was not impressed by the new department and changed itsnameto the Office of Education in 1868, reduced its budget, and attached it to the Department of the Interior. In 1870, Congress again reduced its budget, this time to $5,000 a year. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, the Office of Education regained some respect from Congress during the sixteen-year tenure of a politically savvy commissioner, John Eaton. Many school districts had already ceded a modicum of local control to state control as some states established centralized departments to oversee education within their boundaries.
- Bell, Terrel. The Thirteenth Man: A Reagan Cabinet Memoir. New York: Free Press, 1988. Memoir of Bell’s service as secretary of education from1981 to 1984. Useful insights.
- Bennett, William J. Our Children and Our Country: Improving America’s Schools and Affirming the Common Culture. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Conservative view by a former secretary of education (1985-1988) of what American education should seek to achieve.
- Boyer, Ernest L. College: The Undergraduate Experience in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1987. Plan by a former U.S. commissioner of education (1977-1978) for overhauling higher education in the United States.
- No Child Left Behind: A Desktop Reference. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2002. A program-by-program look at the reforms created by the legislation.
- Riley, RichardW. Design for Learning: Building Schools for the Twenty-First Century. Washington, D.C.: Department of Education, 1998. Blueprint for educational change by a former secretary of education (1993-2001).
- Sniegoski, Stephen J. The Department of Education. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Although directed toward young-adult readers, this overview is thorough and readable.