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 U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans - Link to ED.gov Home Page

Department at a Glance | Our Mission

ESEA Celebrates 40 Years of Access and Excellence

For 40 years and through eight reauthorizations, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) has kept public school education focused on access and equity. The first act included these words: "In recognition of the special educational needs of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance ... to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families ... " (Section 201).

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the most recent reauthorization of the celebrated act of 1965, continues to be guided by the same mission. No Child Left Behind maintains the original premise of access and equity and combines it with widespread accountability for achievement. No Child Left Behind requires states to have standards and assessments, including clear designations of student proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, and prescribes strong consequences for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress. Science assessment requirements begin in SY 2007-08. Schools designated as in need of improvement are mandated to offer parents the choice of sending their children to higher-performing schools or receiving supplemental educational services from state-approved providers for their children. The supplemental services provision applies for schools in the second year of improvement. No Child Left Behind also requires all public school teachers of core academic subjects to be highly qualified by the end of SY 2005-06.

No Child Left Behind guides the Department's operations relating to elementary and secondary public school education. Other major laws control the Department's work in areas of special education, postsecondary education, adult education, and vocational education.

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, originally enacted in 1975 and reauthorized December 3, 2004, mandates that children with disabilities be provided with a free and appropriate public education.
  • The Higher Education Act, originally enacted in 1965 and currently in the process of reauthorization by the Congress, provides need-based grants and loans for undergraduates as well as a variety of programs to improve postsecondary education.
  • The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, which is Title II of the Workforce Investment Act, authorized in 1998, provides grants to state agencies for family literacy services, English literacy programs, and adult education and literacy services, which may include workplace literacy services.
  • The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act provides secondary and postsecondary vocational and technical education programs with federal assistance.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 authorizes programs to provide and improve vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for individuals with disabilities.