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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 | Organization and History

The federal government has taken an active role in education since 1867, when its duties encompassed statistical collection and reporting, but the Cabinet-level Department of Education was created only 25 years ago, in May 1980. By that time, major legislation had been passed that channeled federal support to improve the quality of higher education and access thereto via student financial aid; to strengthen mathematics, science, and vocational education; to provide supplemental resources to improve learning for low-income students and students with disabilities in elementary and secondary schools; and to enforce a variety of laws that protect civil rights.

During the Department's quarter century, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 has been transformed, such that the provision of federal funds to America's poorest schools is coupled with an insistence on measurable improvement in student performance. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which is the most recent amendment to the 1965 act, accounts for more than 43 percent of the Department's FY 2005 discretionary spending. This commitment requires our careful oversight to ensure that No Child Left Behind's provisions result in educational achievement. Under No Child Left Behind and other education laws, we manage 154 programs that provide federal support for educational research and instructional support for students and teachers, and we are accountable for assessing and improving the performance of these programs.

We strive to achieve these results with the smallest workforce of the 16 Cabinet-level departments, fewer than 4,400 full-time-equivalent staff who manage nearly $60 billion in annual discretionary funds and oversee a student financial loan portfolio exceeding $400 billion. To prepare for these challenges in the Department's second quarter century, Secretary Spellings announced a new coordinating structure—one that better focuses our resources on assisting our educational partners and emphasizes tangible results as the paramount yardstick of our success. Among the major changes, the Deputy Secretary oversees all K-12 education policy and the Under Secretary directs all higher and adult education policy activities. To enhance external relations and coordinate policy initiatives across the agency, the Department has created the new Office of Communications and Outreach and the new Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, each led by an assistant secretary reporting directly to the Secretary. These combined efforts will result in a Department of Education that is increasingly responsive to the needs of states, districts, schools, teachers, students, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders in fostering academic achievement.

The Department recognizes the primary role of states and school districts in providing a quality education, employing highly qualified teachers and administrators, and establishing challenging content and achievement standards. Our role is to supplement these state and local efforts with targeted resources, expertise, and leadership that optimize education opportunities for all Americans.