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Education is one of the most important functions of government. It was a concern of the early settlers, and a focus of the Founding Fathers in writing the Constitution precisely because our democracy is dependent on an educated public. The Founders did not want education for the elite or for the many. They wanted education for all. John Adams once exclaimed: "Education for every class and rank of people down to the lowest and the poorest."
The Founding Fathers were correct: Education is necessary for the growth and prosperity of our country. As education has become more inclusive and of better quality, it has enhanced American economic and political leadership.
The task of educating the people has historically been left up to state and local governments. In the late 18th century and into the 19th century, some states, such as Virginia, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, became known for the quality of their education systems. These school systems were the product of visionary contributions. Noah Webster worked to improve public education through writing dictionaries, spellers, readers, and histories. Benjamin Rush championed public education for girls. Horace Mann initiated efforts to improve the physical facilities of schools and to develop the first teacher training program. Thaddeus Stevens pushed through legislation for public support of education in Pennsylvania. New York state set up the first public high schools. Other states followed, and soon public education was available for children across the country.
Recognizing the universal importance of education, the federal government assumed a larger role in financing public schools with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965. Through subsequent reauthorizations, ESEA has continued to assist the states. In 2001, the reauthorization included No Child Left Behind, which asks the states to set standards for student performance and teacher quality. The law establishes accountability for results and improves the inclusiveness and fairness of American education.
I hope this guide will be a useful resource for understanding the No Child Left Behind Act. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact the Department by calling 1-800-USA-LEARN.
U.S. Department of Education