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U.S. Department of Education

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The U.S. Constitution gave no power to the federal government to control education in the United States. It was left to the states and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, to establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation.

The federalization of education in the U.S. began in 1867 with the formation of the original Department of Education. On May 4 1980, Congress combined several federal agencies to form the U.S. Department of Education as a Cabinet level agency in accordance with the Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88 of October 1979).[1] As of 2008, it employs 4,169 people[2] and is provided a $68.6 billion budget.[3]


Department of Education.jpg

The Department of Education headquarters occupies several buildings in Washington, D.C.,: Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building, Regional Office Building 3, Potomac Center Plaza, Capitol Place, 1990 K Street, Union Center Plaza, and L'Enfant Plaza.[4]

U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
Phone: 1-800-872-5327
State: Contacts


The stated mission of the U.S. Department of Education is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.[5]

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.[2]

Under Public Law 96-88 of October 1979 the Depart of Education's mission is to:

  • Strengthen the Federal commitment to assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  • Supplement and complement the efforts of states, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the states, the private sector, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  • Encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  • Promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through Federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  • Improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  • Improve the management of Federal education activities; and
  • Increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress, and the public.[1]


The original Department of Education was created in 1867 to collect information on schools and teaching that would help the States establish effective school systems. While the agency's name and location within the Executive Branch have changed over the past 130 years, this early emphasis on getting information on what works in education to teachers and education policymakers continues down to the present day.

The passage of the Second Morrill Act in 1890 gave the then-named Office of Education responsibility for administering support for the original system of land-grant colleges and universities. Vocational education became the next major area of Federal aid to schools, with the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act and the 1946 George-Barden Act focusing on agricultural, industrial, and home economics training for high school students.

World War II led to a significant expansion of Federal support for education. The Lanham Act in 1941 and the Impact Aid laws of 1950 eased the burden on communities affected by the presence of military and other Federal installations by making payments to school districts. And in 1944, the "GI Bill" authorized postsecondary education assistance that would ultimately send nearly 8 million World War II veterans to college.

The Cold War stimulated the first example of comprehensive Federal education legislation, when in 1958 Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik. To help ensure that highly trained individuals would be available to help America compete with the Soviet Union in scientific and technical fields, the NDEA included support for loans to college students, the improvement of science, mathematics, and foreign language instruction in elementary and secondary schools, graduate fellowships, foreign language and area studies, and vocational-technical training.

The anti-poverty and civil rights laws of the 1960s and 1970s brought about a dramatic emergence of the Department's equal access mission. The passage of laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, and disability, respectively made civil rights enforcement a fundamental and long-lasting focus of the Department of Education. In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act launched a comprehensive set of programs, including the Title I program of Federal aid to disadvantaged children to address the problems of poor urban and rural areas. And in that same year, the Higher Education Act authorized assistance for postsecondary education, including financial aid programs for needy college students.

In 1980, Congress established the Department of Education as a Cabinet level agency. Today, ED operates programs that touch on every area and level of education. The Department's elementary and secondary programs annually serve more than 14,000 school districts and some 56 million students attending more than 97,000 public schools and 28,000 private schools. Department programs also provide grant, loan, and work-study assistance to nearly 11 million postsecondary students.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mission by the the U.S. Department of Education.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Federal Role in Education by the U.S. Department of Education.
  3. Budget Office—U.S. Department of Education by the the U.S. Department of Education.
  4. General Inquiries by the the U.S. Department of Education.
  5. Overview by the the U.S. Department of Education.

See Also